K. Marie

Mayor Ted Wheeler has had a change of heart.

Mere weeks after Wheeler announced he wouldn't support doing away with a controversial exemption in Portland's renter relocation ordinance, the Mayor's office now says that's no longer the case. When the relocation ordinance comes before council later this month, Wheeler will now support a provision requiring landlords who own one rental unit to pay relocation fees.

"The mayor’s going to announce to that group that his preference is to remove the one-unit exemption and replace it with an exemption for ADUs and owner-occupied duplexes," says Michael Cox, Wheeler's deputy chief of staff.

Barring a sudden change, that virtually ensures that the single-unit exemption—long a target of tenants' advocates—will be done away with when City Council takes up potential changes to the renter relocation law on February 28. Commissioners Chloe Eudaly and Nick Fish both support doing away with the exemption.

Under the city's relocation payment law, landlords who issue no-cause evictions or cause their tenants to move with rent hikes of at least 10 percent are required to pay between $2,900 and $4,500 to help them relocate. But when passing the law a year ago, council provided a carve out for "mom and pop" landlords, who testified in droves that the requirement would hurt them.

Eudaly, the relocation payment policy's central champion on the city council, has repeatedly tried to do away with the exemption unsuccessfully. Now it's on the way out.

There will likely be new exemptions to take its place, however. Wheeler, Eudaly, and Fish all support new carve outs for property owners who rent out accessory dwelling units on their property, or live in one half of a duplex they own and rent the other half. Eudaly tells the Mercury her office is also working up a hardship process to help out landlords who are disproportionately impacted by the relocation fees. It's unclear what that will look like.

Wheeler's change of heart on the single-unit exemption is abrupt. On January 19, after the release of an analysis that suggested there might be more than 24,000 units of rental housing affected by the exemption, the mayor released a letter indicating he wanted to collect more data before undoing the loophole.

Since that letter, rumors have swirled through City Hall. First, Wheeler was said to have changed his mind about keeping the exemption. Then he allegedly pulled back. Now, it appears his mind has changed for good. He'll announce his position officially at a meeting on Friday of an advisory group that's been studying the relocation law.

"A couple weeks ago he did say he was going to refrain from amending the one-unit exemption at this time," Cox says. "He also said he had no philosophical objection and that he was going to continue listening to feedback."