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SARAH MIRK

Portland landlords will now have to pay an annual $60 fee to the city for each rental unit, thanks to a decision made by Portland City Council on Wednesday.

The council voted 3-1 to impose the fees, which will help fund the Rental Services Office, a relatively new division of the Portland Housing Bureau. Mayor Ted Wheeler’s administration created the office so that the city could have a centralized way to track rental units, tenant complaints, and negligent landlords. Last year, City Council voted to create a Residential Rental Registration Program, requiring landlords to register all rental units with the city, and be subject to routine inspections. Similar databases exist in other cities, including Seattle, Boston, and Eugene.

“With passing this item, Portland is going to join with many other major cities in the country,” said Commissioner Chloe Eudaly, before voting in favor of the new fee. “This $60 fee will not fully fund the office, but should cover the costs of registration.”

The office's annual budgets is currently fueled by $1.3 million from Portland’s general fund and $1.5 million from cannabis tax revenue. To fully fund the programs promised by the Rental Services Office, the city still needs $3.6 million. The $60 fees are expected to fill that funding gap.

As the Mercury reported last year, the registration program could provide a needed layer of protection for Portland renters, who already face rising rental costs and displacement. From our previous coverage:

“According to Mayor Ted Wheeler's office, the program could also enshrine tenants' rights trainings, track legal representation for households threatened with eviction, help facilitate landlord-tenant mediation services, track rent prices, and collect what seems like a bottomless supply of other crucial data.”

"Rental units that are guaranteed to be affordable for households that make only 60 percent or less than the median Portland household income will be exempt from the fee. Landlords of these affordable units will still be required to register them with the office.

It's still unclear how the city will ensure landlords cough up this new fee.

The vote comes less than two months after City Council voted to establish new fair housing rules, including “low barrier” rental screening policies meant to ensure the selection process isn’t discriminatory, and a limit on how much landlords can charge for security deposits. Many property management companies, developers, and landlords said the changes placed an unfair burden on them—and they made the same argument about the new $60 fee.

Commissioner Amanda Fritz cited these landlords’ concerns before casting the lone “no” vote on the fee.

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“I would have supported this if it had come to us last year, before all the other changes,” Fritz said. “I agree that we need a rental registration program that continues to be funded—however, on top of all the other additional regulations that we’ve put on landlords, and the fact that this fee is not going to help pay for universal inspections … it’s regressive.”

Before voting “yes” on Wednesday, Wheeler noted that both “landlords and developers” and “tenants rights organizations” have pointed out the need for better data on the city’s supply of rental units, rental costs, and landlord practices.

“This is the way we help fund the program to do that,” Wheeler added.