The field of consumer law encompasses many different statutes protecting consumers. From the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act to the Unlawful Trade Practices Act, these laws are designed to protect consumers (particularly low-income ones) from abuses of creditors and debt collectors as well as from unscrupulous businesses who would prey upon the financially vulnerable. The portion of the community protected by consumer protection laws is very much the same section of the population that is served by the protections of state and municipal landlord-tenant statutes.
Over the last five years Oregon, and Portland in particular, has seen a rapid increase in residential housing prices. The average cost of a two-bedroom unit in Portland as of August, 2018 was over $1,500.00 per month.[i] This rapid increase in housing prices has had the effect of forcing many low-income families out of their residences in Portland. The response from renters has been a backlash against landlords who have chosen to increase rents with little to no increase in services and conditions of the rental units – everything from renters strikes[ii], massive litigation over the conditions of rental units,[iii] to large- and small-scale protests over rental increases and housing condition as well as the perceived failure of the State legislature to address the problems.[iv]
In response to the dramatic increase in rental prices, state and local governments have passed, or attempted to pass, a series of acts designed to lessen the impact on affected residents. Notable among these is the Portland City Code § 30.01.085, also known as the Portland Mandatory Renter Relocation Assistance Ordinance. Initially passed as a temporary, emergency measure by the Portland City Council in November 2015, the Ordinance has gone through a number of revisions. It was adopted in its current form as a permanent measure in March 2018. This article will describe the goals and terms of the Ordinance as well as discuss the procedures through which tenants can protect themselves in order to ensure that their landlord abides by the terms of the Ordinance.
The Portland City Council enacted the Ordinance in order to “protect the availability of publicly assisted affordable housing for low and moderate income households . . . .”[v] The stated policy for the Ordinance is “that all Portlanders, regardless of income level, family composition, race, ethnicity or physical ability, have reasonable certainty in their housing, whether publicly assisted or on the private market. . . .[vi] In order the effectuate these goals, the Ordinance requires a landlord to compensate a tenant in an amount up to $4,500.00 depending on the size of the dwelling unit when the landlord either (1) terminates the tenancy without cause or (2) raises the rent by 10 percent or more during any rolling 12-month period.
No Cause Termination of Tenancies. Oregon state law only requires 30 or 60 days’ notice before a landlord can terminate a residential tenancy.[vii] Portland now requires 90 days’ notice (with certain, narrow exceptions) for all no-cause terminations. These notices must now include a description of a tenant’s rights under the Ordinance—including the eligible amount of the relocation assistance. Landlords can still terminate a tenancy with no cause but should they choose to do so they must pay the tenants the relocation assistance. The payment of the relocation assistance must be made no later than 45 days prior to the termination date specified in the termination notice. So, for example, if a landlord issues a termination of tenancy to a tenant on December 15 with an end date of April 30, the landlord must pay the tenant the relocation assistance by March 16 at the latest.
In addition to being triggered upon the delivery of a no-cause termination notice, should a landlord fail to renew or replace an expiring lease, it is obligated to pay the tenant the relocation assistance.
Rent Increase of Ten Percent. The Ordinance first requires at least 90 days’ notice of any rent increase. Should the increase be ten percent or more (in a rolling 12-month period, two five-percent increases in a calendar year would trigger the requirements under the Code) the tenant is confronted with a series of choices:
- The tenant can accept the increased rent and remain in the unit and pay the increased rent;
- Within 45 days after receiving the notice of the rent increase, the tenant can send a written request to the landlord for their relocation assistance;
- Within 31 days of the landlord receiving the request for relocation assistance, the landlord must pay the tenant the eligible assistance amount;
- Next, the tenant, after receiving the relocation assistance, has six (6) months to do one of the following:
- Pay back the relocation assistance and pay the increased rent, or;
- Provide the landlord with a termination notice and move out of the unit.
So the provisions of the Ordinance dealing with situations in which a landlord dramatically increases the rent place an affirmative obligation on the tenant to request the money or else they will presumably be deemed to have accepted the rent increase. And while the landlord is required to provide a notice of the tenant’s rights with any rent increase, there is no specified form that such a disclosure needs to be in. The Ordinance simply states, “A Landlord shall include a description of a Tenant’s rights and obligations and the eligible amount of Relocation Assistance under this Section 30.10.085 with each and any . . . Increase Notice . . . .[viii] Such a description could be in the form of a copy of the Ordinance, which is not so easy to understand, particularly for tenants for whom English is not their primary language.
The legal and political challenges to the tenant protection measures are far from over. These tenant protections have seen a concerted response from landlord groups seeking the repeal or rollback these protections as being too onerous for the landlords.[ix] In July 2017, a landlord challenged the Ordinance in Multnomah County Circuit Court as, among other things, violative of an Oregon statute prohibiting rent control.[x] While Judge Henry Breithaupt found that the Ordinance was valid, the case is currently on appeal with the Oregon Court of Appeals. The next few years will certainly see many more, new clashes between landlords and tenant advocacy groups and attorneys as the regulations and laws are fleshed out.