MOVING IS STRESSFUL: Searching for a house, coming up with the extra cash for deposits, cleaning, packing, unpacking.
Moving after an eviction, though, can be devastating.
Oregon law dictates landlords only need to give either one or two months' notice if they want you out, depending on how long you've been a tenant—but they don't need to reveal their motives.
Landlords are also allowed to raise rents however much they want, effectively evicting people who can't afford the new price. There's no agency tracking how often these actions occur, but they're playing out a lot in Portland.
The city's tenants are starting to get angry, so they're doing what Portlanders do: organize. The Portland Renters Assembly is holding meetings where renters can "tell their stories of abuse, exploitation, and displacement at the hands of landlords," and several Facebook groups have popped up in which angry tenants are looking for solutions.
These tenants' rights advocates argue there are reforms that could be put in place—stopping short of much-debated rent control—which could level the uneven playing field between landlords and tenants. For example, in Washington State, the law allows a landlord to evict a tenant with no cause on just 20 days' notice. But Seattle passed a city ordinance stating a landlord can only evict a tenant on a month-to-month lease for one of 18 reasons.
That type of law would have helped Chloe Eudaly.
Eudaly is a Portland business owner and mother whose son suffered a traumatic brain injury at birth; he has chronic health problems and relies on a wheelchair. Eudaly had lived in the same five-bedroom Northwest Portland home for 18 years when, in the fall of 2006, her landlord decided to sell the house. Her family's continued tenancy didn't fit with the new owners' plans for the home.
Just like that, Eudaly learned she was getting evicted with her then-kindergarten-age son, who was sick with pneumonia at the time. Her moving date was December 31.
"If anyone had asked, I would've just wanted them to wait at least until my son finished the school year," she says. "What was an intense traumatic hardship for me would have been a minor inconvenience for them; I mean it's not like the house was going anywhere."
After that first no-cause eviction, Eudaly found a smaller house in the Irvington neighborhood for $1,200 a month, and signed a one-year lease. When it was time to renew, her landlord increased the rent to $1,800. She couldn't afford it.
So Eudaly and her son prepared for yet another move. She was able to find "a little two-bedroom, at the 11th hour, that was riddled with code violations and safety hazards."
At this point in the interview, Eudaly pauses in her story.
"I feel a little bit scared talking about this," she says.
Eudaly still lives in that house with her son, and though she says her landlord has fixed many of the problems since they moved in, she's afraid of getting served with yet another no-cause eviction, so she asked that specifics about her current living situation be omitted from the story.
Advocates understand her reluctance.
"The threat of no-cause evictions and huge rent increases has a very damaging effect on tenants," says Justin Buri, executive director of tenants' rights group Community Alliance of Tenants (CAT). "Tenants prefer not to rock the boat because every time they ask for a repair, they wonder if they're going to see their rent go up or be served with an eviction notice."
Evictions in the face of repair requests are considered "retaliatory" and are illegal, Buri says. But they're nearly impossible to prove, and pose a much higher risk for the tenant than the landlord.
"If you lose, you still have to leave your home, but now you have to pay all the landlord's court costs and legal fees," Buri says.
Rosalie Nowalk says she got stuck paying more than $5,500 of her former landlord's legal fees after trying to sue for a retaliatory eviction.
According to Multnomah County court records, landlord Vicki Pflaumer served Nowalk with a no-cause eviction notice in July 2014, less than a month after she'd moved in. Nowalk wasn't able to find a place within the 30 days she was supposed to vacate, though she said she looked every day, and Pflaumer took her to court to get her out.
"I think I had a case," Nowalk says. "But I was so naïve."
Nowalk's counterclaim accused Pflaumer of evicting her for complaining about a leaky toilet and denying Pflaumer entrance to her home without the required 24-hour notice when the landlord dropped by at 9 pm. The case was dismissed, with Nowalk the loser.
"I've been living in flux for the last year," Nowalk says. "It's been really scary."
The way Buri and others see it, shelter is a basic human need—like safe food and clean water—yet many think of renting only as a business transaction, which disregards the negative effects of being uncertain of where you're going to live.
"If you want to be in the business of providing housing to people, you have to take those impacts into account," Buri says. "We don't let people sell food without inspectors ensuring there are no toxic things in what we eat."
Landlords do face the burden of paying a mortgage if a renter vacates, and they are responsible for repairs and taxes, which people often point out when discussing tenants' rights versus landlords' freedom to do what they want with their property. (None of the landlords the Mercury approached about these cases responded to a request for comment.)
Since Oregon law doesn't specifically preempt municipalities from enacting their own laws, here are a few things advocates say the City of Portland might be able to do to help renters: First, do away with no-cause evictions—or at least require landlords to provide a legitimate reason for the eviction.
Another tenant-protection option would be to require a landlord to take on some of the economic burden the tenant faces in a no-cause eviction, by requiring the landlord to pay some of the moving costs. In San Francisco, where vacancy rates are tight and rents are high, landlords can be required to pay thousands to no-cause evicted tenants, Buri says.
Or the city could extend the vacancy notice time—now at either 30 or 60 days—to help give tenants time to find a new home.
A last option, which creeps into the realm of rent control (prohibited by Oregon statute), would be to cap the amount a landlord is allowed to increase rent at the time of lease renewal.
"A rent increase of say, 50 percent, could be considered a de facto eviction, and could be a loophole that would need to be addressed by an attorney," Buri says.
City Commissioner Dan Saltzman's office, which oversees the Portland Housing Bureau, hadn't responded to an inquiry about possible fixes by press time.
Oregon law says either a tenant or landlord can terminate a rental agreement with no cause, but with the heavier burden resting on the tenant, is that fair? Buri suggests that requiring a landlord to at least list a reason—even if it's that they're going to raze the building and put up luxury apartments, or that they want to jack up the rent and think the market can handle it—might deter some no-cause evictions.
Until then, Portlanders will continue being displaced in an unforgiving market.
"People tell me, 'You should just move,'" Eudaly says. "But I can't save enough to cover the costs of moving, even if I could find something in my neighborhood. I'm just hustling at this point."