Seminar reveals landlord concerns about new Oregon law and Portland policy designed to help renters

PMG FILE PHOTO - Landlords say they are struggling to keep pace with changes.Landlord confusion over changes in Oregon and Portland rental policies were apparent during a recent Oregon State Bar seminar on them.

The public seminar was held at the lawyer association's Tigard headquarters on Wednesday, July 10. It was presented by two expert landlord/tenant lawyers, Timothy Murphy and Troy Pickard. Although announced with short notice, 30 people came to the conference room and another 80 watched it online. They appeared to all be landlords, judging by their questions.

And they all appeared to be concerned about unintentionally breaking the new rent control bill approved by the 2019 Oregon Legislature or the tenant relocation policy approved by the City Council in 2018 — or both at the same time. The new rent control law, Senate Bill 608, took effect immediately after Oregon Gov. Kate Brown signed it. A legal challenge by some landlords to Portland's policy is pending before the Oregon Court of Appeals but is still in effect.

"We are seeing notable increases in questions from the public about how to navigate these new laws, as well as requests through our lawyer referral service for help or representation," Kateri Walsh, the bar's media relations director, said about why the seminar was scheduled. "The questions are coming from both tenants and landlords. We similarly hear anecdotally from lawyers who practice in this arena that demand for legal help is high and getting higher."

The new state law limits annual rent increases in buildings older than 15 years to no more than 7% plus the increase in the consumer price index. It also limits the use of no-cause evictions, and requires those who use them to pay their tenants one month rent. Portland's policy requires landlords to pay relocation costs in the thousands of dollars to tenants subject to no-cause evictions, or who choose to move if their rents are increased more than 10% per year. Both include other requirements and limited exemptions.

Renters, tenant advocates and affordable housing advocates have praised the law and policy, and called for even more regulations. But Murphy and Pickard had hardly begun their presentations when those at the seminar started peppering them with detailed questions about both the state law and the Portland policy, and how the two relate to each other. They had to stop taking questions at one point to complete their presentations within the scheduled 90 minutes. Dozens of questions emailed in from those watching online went unasked.

Although the law and policy are both intended to better protect renters during the affordable housing crisis, Murphy and Pickard both said some of the legal questions will be resolved only through lawsuits that establish new case law. In the meantime, Pickard praised the council for amending Portland's policy to allow landlords to offset the state's required one month rent payment with their relocation payments.

Despite that, several landlords at the seminar complained the increased costs and potential liabilities of the new requirements are making their jobs much harder.

"It's criminal what they're doing," Linda Monte said of state lawmakers. "They're making decisions that are affecting livelihoods of people who work very hard."

Monte also said she was glad she does not own any rental properties in Portland.

"Thank God, and I never will," she said.

Another landlord, who asked not to be identified, said he will sell all of his Portland properties as his existing tenants move out.

"I can't afford to pay their relocation costs. I'm done doing business in Portland," he said.

And the seminar did not even touch on the most recent renter protections approved by the council. Among other things, they prohibit landlords from refusing to rent to convicted criminals in some circumstances and regulate security deposits. They will take effect when the council approves the funding to enforce them.

Pickard also predicted that more cities will follow Portland's lead in the future and adopt their own tenant protection policies. He noted that Milwaukie already has done so.

"To landlords, the idea of local jurisdictions adopting their own policies is terrifying. There's no guarantee you learn when it happens," he said.

Walsh said that because of the public interest, the bar will prioritize its public outreach work on landlord/tenant issues, including posting more information on its website. They will include translations of its related publication in multiple languages.

"We are stepping up our efforts to get this information widely distributed statewide. Those online updates will be fluid and continuous as these changes play out in real time. We encourage people to continue to watch our landlord/tenant links for information and updates," Walsh said.

You can find a link to the bar's website at the online version of this story.

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