With seemingly endless sunny days on the horizon, and the bottomless vacation time Portland elected officials are afforded, July can be a tough time to wrangle a full City Council dais.
Even catching four of Portland’s five city commissioners in the same room in coming weeks could prove tricky. So the decision was made earlier this week to bump up, from Thursday to Wednesday, a list of proposed tweaks to the city’s controversial but legal law mandating relocation payments for some renters.
With four commissioners planning to attend the Wednesday morning hearing (Commissioner Nick Fish is out), and four unanimous “aye” votes enough to pass the changes as an emergency, the ordinance could go into effect right away.
And now it has.
In the first set of “technical” fixes to the renter relocation law since it was passed in February, the council gave renters more time after receiving relocation payments of between $2,900 and $4,500 to either keep the money and move out or return it and stay put. The changes also give tenants longer to request a payment after receiving notice they’ll face a qualifying rent hike (45 days rather than two weeks), and gave landlords longer time to pay it (31 days rather than two weeks).
And as we noted in this week’s Mercury (on newsstands now-ish!), the council attempted to close a fairly huge loophole in the law.
Under the renter relocation ordinance, landlords must pay tenants if they raise rents by at least 10 percent (causing the tenant to move) or issue a no-cause eviction. But in passing the law, council created a carve-out for “mom-and-pop” landlords who own and rent just one unit or home.
The problem: Landlord groups quickly figured out that by creating limited liability companies (LLCs) for individual properties, owners could evade the requirement. The LLC would in effect be the owner, glossing over the fact that people behind the LLC owned a bunch of properties.
That will no longer fly—at least in theory. Language council passed today seemed to close the loophole by making clear the “form” of a person’s ownership in several properties didn’t matter, and people controlling multiple rental LLCs still must pay. But some tenant advocates said it wasn’t enough.
Margot Black, with the group Portland Tenants United, argued that the “mom-and-pop” exemption embedded in the law should be narrowed to “only those humans who personally manage their properties.”
When owners form LLCs or tap professional property management firms, Black suggested, they move beyond homespun mom-and-pop types and get into the realm of serious businesspeople who should be forced to pay. She also said the existing law could put the burden on tenants to prove their LLC-owned property didn’t have an owner in common with other rentals.
Portland attorney Alan Kessler agreed.
“It seems City Council is taking the position of people who own two houses, and weighing that against the position of people who have no houses,” he said during testimony.
Council didn’t bite. Though Commissioner Chloe Eudaly said she was open to the amendment, it wasn’t part of the package [PDF] of changes the council was considering. That package came from a “technical advisory committee” of housing officials, tenant advocates, property managers, and others who’ve been hashing out changes to the law.
“I think it is an important issue,” said Mayor Ted Wheeler. “I would like to see it discussed in the committee.”
The council did accept one amendment to the committee’s work, though. Under the new changes, a tenant has six months after a rent increase takes effect to either give notice they’ll move out or repay relocation money and eat the higher rents. Katrina Holland, executive director of the Community Alliance of Tenants, argued that renters might not be aware that six-month window existed, and so could be caught off guard if they were forced to pay the money back. The city council adopted language that should require landlords to give notice.
As to larger changes to the relocation law, they’re almost certainly coming. Council members have begun discussing short-term and long-term versions of the law. The short-term version is the one tweaked today, and it’s slated to expire in early October.
The longer-term version will be whatever council replaces the current policy with. After a judge’s ruling last week that the policy is legit, there appears to be little question that will happen.
“It is difficult to be here roughly six months from where we started and realizing that we’re going to have to go on our own,” said Wheeler, citing the state legislature’s inability to pass statewide renter protections in the legislative session that ended last week. “It means we have a lot of work ahead of us, and we’re up to the job.”