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Oregon State Treasurer and Portland mayoral candidate Ted Wheeler today proposed a Tenants’ Bill of Rights to provide better protections for renters in Portland’s changing housing market and to create more affordable housing options.

“Portlanders face some of the fastest rising rents in the country. It is time for the city to step up to ensure renters are being treated fairly and that landlords are following the law,” said Wheeler. “Today’s proposal provides a path to ensuring that people aren’t being priced out and moved out of this community. My hope is that we can build on the good work being done by the Welcome Home Coalition and A Home for Everyone.”

The proposed Bill of Rights will expand protections for tenants, and ensure that they are able to exercise their rights to demand fair treatment and safe living conditions from landlords. The Bill of Rights is based on three core principles:

  • The Right to Rent, because a home creates a foundation for health, family, and economic success; because there are currently too many barriers to finding a home;
  • The Right to Recourse, because renters should know their rights; because both landlords and tenants must be accountable to the law;
  • The Right to Remain, because housing stability has positive impacts on families, communities, health, education, and the economy; because housing stability helps ensure children show up to school ready to learn; because evictions disrupt lives, jobs, and can contribute to homelessness.

The attached Tenants’ Bill of Rights outlines several key renter protections: a city office within the Housing Bureau dedicated to landlord-tenant affairs; a Just Cause eviction requirement; improvements that will result in more affordable housing construction; and an improved application and rental process. Housing providers would be subject to these policies with exemptions possible depending on the number and type of units they manage.

Between August 2014 and August 2015, annual effective rents rose an average of 15.4% in Portland, the fastest in the country.

“That 15.4% is really unhealthy, unless wages are increasing at a similar rate, which they are not,” said Margot Black, a Lewis and Clark College Mathematics Instructor and tenants’ rights activist. “This year my rent went up $250, and my take-home pay went up $30.”

As part of the Bill of Rights, Wheeler today proposed the creation of the Office of Landlord-Tenant Affairs. Currently, code violations can be reported to the Bureau of Development Services (BDS). Evictions that are considered retaliatory can be litigated in the civil court system at the tenants’ expense.

“Oftentimes the landlords have been in court much more than the tenants, and the court system favors them. I have three retaliation cases I’ve won in the last 15 years,” said attorney Harry Ainsworth, whose clients are primarily tenants. “The retaliation statute is not a great protection, and 99% of tenants don’t have the resources to risk an adverse judgment if they lose – that’s a $4,000 to $10,000 hit, that’s a destroyed tenant.”

The new Office of Landlord-Tenant Affairs will provide renters with a new avenue to address housing violations at no cost and protect those making complaints from retaliatory evictions.

“It doesn’t make a difference if we have robust rules on the books if they aren’t enforced,” said Chelsea DeLoney, a single mother whose housing search took six months. “Right now, tenants face a lose-lose proposition – live with violations or complain and get evicted. Ted Wheeler’s Tenants’ Bill of Rights will finally empower Portland renters, which in turn will cut down on displacements, improve economic security, and promote stronger neighborhoods.”

These policies reflect the recommendations of a citizen advisory committee that volunteered over 100 person-hours looking at how the city can better address local housing issues. Wheeler made clear that this announcement is the first in a series of policy solutions to Portland’s housing crisis.

The summary of the Tenants’ Bill of Rights and additional information is below.

Tenants’ Bill Of Rights

The Right to Rent, because a home creates a foundation for health, family, and economic success; because there are currently too many barriers to finding a home;

The Right to Recourse, because renters should know their rights; because both landlords and tenants must be accountable to the law;

The Right to Remain, because housing stability has positive impacts on families, communities, health, education, and the economy; because housing stability helps ensure children show up to school ready to learn; because evictions disrupt lives, jobs, and can contribute to homelessness.

To ensure these rights are upheld, the following policies are proposed:

Office of Landlord-Tenant Affairs: Create the Office of Landlord-Tenant Affairs within the Portland Housing Bureau to mediate disputes between tenants and landlords. The office would inform landlords and renters of their rights and responsibilities, including a clear and consistent set of standards for landlords. The office would be funded by shifting existing resources within the Housing Bureau, or through fees paid by the industry the office regulates.

Just Cause Evictions: Establish a set of Just Cause Eviction Criteria, similar to the City of Seattle, which details 18 such criteria. Relocation payments will be required for certain Just Cause evictions and any No Cause evictions, should they still be allowed.

Funding for Affordable Housing: Increased demolitions in Portland lead to increased property tax revenues from the new homes built, because the new homes will be assessed at current market levels. The city should consider capturing the additional property tax revenues for these properties, and dedicating the revenues to affordable housing.

Reduce Roadblocks to Building Affordable Housing: Immediately reduce or waive fees for affordable housing, cut red tape, and streamline the process. Affordable housing developers should have a single point of contact at the city to help navigate the process. Closely evaluate the effects of design review upon affordable housing development, and create a standard set of approved materials and styles for affordable housing to reduce the time in design review.

PDX Rent: Encourage the creation of an online database for landlords and prospective renters that includes a standardized rental application and background check. Portland entrepreneurs are already lending their talents to affordable housing and tenants’ issues. Tyrone Poole recently won the 1776 Challenge Cup Regional in San Francisco for his site NoAppFee.com, which utilizes data and technology to promote equal access to housing. The city should be capitalizing on these innovations.

Inspections: Work to implement the Bureau of Development Services and Housing Bureau plan to increase inspections. Renters deserve a safe, well-maintained place to live.