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City Council to wait for decision at State level regarding complicated housing policy

Housing officials representing both landlords and tenants say rental evictions are on the rise in Washington County. But Hillsboro officials aren't in any rush to impose policies that affect how the two sides resolve conflicts.

It's legal in Oregon for landlords to evict tenants even if they pay their rent and never cause trouble, as long as they are given proper notice.

In October 2015 and April 2016, respectively, Portland and Milwaukie officials attempted to address tenant and property owner hardship concerns by approving local policies that require landlords to provide notices to tenants 90s before a no-cause eviction, but little headway has been made to address the issue at the state level.

This has led to confusion among renters and landlords in and around those cities who aren't sure of what rules apply while navigating the borders of the metro region, causing frustration across the board for local leaders attempting to address low vacancy rates and high rent costs with policies that might better protect those at greatest risk.

"It's a challenging policy," said Andrew Bartlett, management analyst for the city. "It's really going to be about a balance. I don't know that there's one solution to this."

Along with Senior Project Manager Chris Hartye, Bartlett presented the findings of their study on 90-day no cause evictions to the mayor and city councilors in August.

What the pair uncovered was a complicated, confusing dilemma — the solutions for which could either protect or punish good landlords just as easily as they bad renters.

A problem nobody wants (to deal with)

For no cause evictions, the state currently requires 30 days notice, or 60 days for tenancies longer than one year. This year, state legislators established a requirement for landlords to give 90 days' notice of rent increases after the first year of tenancy, but abandoned their efforts to address no cause evictions for unknown reasons.

"From what we heard, there isn't data tracking no-cause evictions," Bartlett said. "That was one of the challenges of reporting this policy. Without true data, there's no way of knowing just how much of a problem it is."

Bartlett reported a "strong anticipation" that rental notice requirements would be discussed by legislators in 2017.

Incidentally, Hillsboro's council chose not to make any grand decisions after Hartye and Bartlett's presentation, saying there is no evidence of what effect Portland and Milwaukie's policies have had — and also because there was a question about the city’s ability to enforce the policy in court.

The council essentially realized a new code would offer help without providing an avenue through which it could be exercised, said Councilor Steve Callaway.

"We found it made the most sense to keep an eye on Portland, Milwaukie, and the state," said Callaway, whose own inquiry initiated the study. "Also, it doesn't make sense to put in rules the state might change anyway."

For Callaway, any action by Hillsboro's council would be tantamount to offering a solution in search of a problem.

Problem? What problem?

No-cause evictions are — and are not — a problem depending on whom you ask.

According to Hartye and Bartlett, Washington County for-cause evictions are on the rise, with 2,726 in 2015, an increase from 2,687 in 2014, but the duo could not provide any data quantifying no cause evictions.

Officials from Multifamily NW, a trade association that provides property managers access to forms and education, agreed that a rise in for cause evictions is occurring in the Portland area, but added that only 4 percent of the rental groups in Oregon that use Multifamily NW forms purchased eviction documents.

Hartye and Bartlett told councilors that county staff cited a large portion of the no cause evictions occurring in smaller rental complexes bought by larger ownership groups, which may evict the current residents in order to improve the properties and then re-rent them.

Callaway said this report concerned him the most because, according to county staff, this happens most often to seniors and working families who may not be able to find other rent spaces in their price range within a 30-day timeframe.

Also in Hartye and Bartlett's report, representatives from housing assistance nonprofit group Community Action said that providing a displaced renter 90 days to find a new home would help reduce new cases of homelessness.

Ultimately, Hartye and Bartlett took all the contradictory and incomplete testimony they received at face value as the opinions of those individuals and organizations, Bartlett said, noting that all eyes will fall back to Oregon's State Legislature for answers.

"The state needs to examine this," he said. "Any policy ought to be uniform across Oregon."

By Travis Loose
Reporter, Hillsboro Tribune
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