Portland Continuing Push Against Landlords

Portland continues to look at the Rights of Tenant’s and a method of control over Landlords. See the following.

The lawsuit against Portland’s new no-cause eviction policy is now scheduled be heard by a Multnomah County Circuit Court judge on April 6. An amended version will be filed with the court today, Feb. 21.

City attorneys won the first round in the legal fight last Wednesday. U.S. District Judge Michael Simon refused to grant the temporary restraining order against the policy sought by attorneys representing two landlords.

The landlord attorneys also withdrew their federal claims against the policy after Simon expressed skepticism over them, allowing him to send the suit back to the state court, where it had originally been filed. The city had moved it to U.S. court based on the federal claims.

“It is a mystery to me as to why the city wanted to move this to federal court. I didn’t file it to federal court because most of our claims are state claims,” one of the landlord attorneys, John DiLorenzo, said after the ruling.

Although Simon did not think the policy violated the contract and due process clauses of the U.S. Constitution, he said the suit raised “interesting questions” about whether it violated the existing statewide ban against local rent control measures.

Until there is a ruling in the case, landlords will have to decide whether to decline to pay the newly required moving costs for tenants — and face legal action themselves.

DiLorenzo says he will not request another temporary restraining order, but he did add a state due process claim to the suit.

The new policy requires landlords to pay relocation costs ranging from $2,900 to $4,500 to tenants who are evicted without formal notice that they violated their landlord-tenant agreements. The same payments are also required if tenants choose to move after their rent is raised 10 percent or more in 12 months. The suit argues the required payments are so high, they amount to a de facto form of rent control.

Simon refused to grant the restraining order for a reason that might surprise some people. It had been sought against the city, but the city is not actually enforcing the rental assistance requirement. Instead, tenants who do not receive such payments from their landlords can sue them and receive damages and attorneys fees if they prevail.

Simon said the landlord attorneys may eventually prevail, however, writing, “At the end of this lawsuit, if Plaintiffs are correct on the merits, the Court may enter declaratory relief in their favor, which has the effect of a final judgment.”

The landlords who filed suit are Multnomah County residents Phillip Owen, who owns 75 rental units, and Michael Feves, who owns 465 units.

The apartment lobbying group Multifamily Northwest is paying for the suit with its legal defense fund.

According to the complaint, Owen and his wife plan to move into one of their rental properties while they repair their home, which was recently damaged by a falling tree.

Owen has issued no-cause evictions to four tenants living at that property and objects to having to pay relocation aid to move into his own property.

The complaint also argues that the city’s ordinance prevents landlords from using no-cause evictions to remove problem tenants.

It states that Owen has used no-cause evictions to remove tenants involved in sexual harassment and drug dealing and that Feves used no-cause evictions to remove two tenants with mental health problems.

The City Council unanimously approved the new policy on Feb. 2 in response to Portland’s affordable housing crisis and reports that tenants were being forced to move or even becoming homeless because of no-cause evictions and rent increases. The council is lobbying the 2017 Oregon Legislature to remove the statewide rent control ban.

Oregon Public Broadcasting

contributed to this story.