Jen Wang

TO HEAR Portland’s landlords tell it, the city’s housing market will soon be circling the drain.

Why? How? As Portland City Council passed strong, temporary renters’ protections Thursday, February 2, there was no end to the hypotheticals.

Sleazy men harassing neighborhood children might be allowed to remain in their homes without landlords’ ready access to no-cause evictions, one man said. Others speculated that the new protections would spur landlords to allow properties to fall into disrepair.

One man promised only “retaliation.”

To be clear, the new law landlords are angry about doesn’t eliminate no-cause evictions, nor make it unreasonable to expect a landlord to perform maintenance on their property.

Instead, while the city’s housing emergency declaration is in place, it forces landlords to pay relocation costs of between $2,900 and $4,500 if they evict someone without cause, refuse to renew a lease, or raise rents by 10 percent or more.

“By and large, the hardship is on the tenants,” Commissioner Chloe Eudaly, a driving force behind the new law, said at last week’s sometimes-testy hearing. “We are asking the landlords to acknowledge their role in this housing crisis.”

But landlords aren’t willing—at least not like this. Again and again, they compared the speedy passage of Eudaly’s bill to a Trumpian executive order.

So it was no surprise when attorney John DiLorenzo filed suit on behalf of two landlords on Monday, arguing that the law flies in the face of a state ban on rent control and needs to be tossed. While the case plays out, DiLorenzo promised to push to have the policy put on ice, though it remains to be seen how he’ll do so.

Even the promise of such a fight is a big deal for Portland, where housing activists have been pestering city officials to take a stand for well over a year. Along with new, strong laws being contemplated in Salem, the contours of the court’s decision could open new possibilities in the city’s rental landscape.

None of this is to say that the landlords are entirely wrong, though. I was interested in their claims about the new law, so I phoned down to San Francisco, which has had rent controls in place since 1979 and has yet to see its housing market circle the drain.

Still, the city’s rules are frequently derided by skeptics, who say they discourage construction of new housing and benefit a comparative few. Others credit them with saving cultural enclaves, like San Francisco’s Chinatown.

The City by the Bay experiences stronger market forces than Portland’s, but not dissimilar ones. So how might the protections that Portland just enacted play out in San Francisco’s capitalistic Thunderdome?

Robert Collins, executive director of the San Francisco Rent Board, laughed.

“If we had that [policy], everyone would be gone,” he said of the city’s protected renters. “Portland now is where San Francisco was in 1975.”

But in Portland, for now, these new policies stand a chance of doing some good for a lot of people.