City of Portland Proposes Changes to Landlord Laws to Enforce Healthy Rental Housing

By Erika Schnitzer, Associate EditorPortland, Ore.–A public hearing was held last week to discuss the proposed changes to rental housing ordinances in Portland. Such changes are expected to remedy health and safety hazards caused by landlord neglect.The new rulings would require anyone who owns rental properties to obtain business licenses from the city, in addition to updating the city’s housing code and creating a complaint-driven inspection model.Other cities throughout Oregon, including Gresham and Salem, have mandatory health and safety inspections that Portland is now considering, explains Greg Frick, partner of HFO Investment Real Estate, an apartment brokerage firm who has worked to get information about these proposals to owners of rental housing.The Quality Rental Housing Workgroup, created by the city council last year to address health and safety problems in Portland’s rental housing, created a set of recommendations, which are based on four principles: “bad actors should be held accountable for their behavior; rental housing must be distinguished from owner-occupied housing; landlords and tenants need education about their rights and responsibilities; funding required to enforce healthy rental housing should be shared by bad actors, the rental housing industry, and the public.”The recommendations include changes to the housing code (Title 29), which does not currently distinguish between owner-occupied and rental housing, Frick explains. The Quality Rental Housing Workgroup has also recommended increasing lead awareness among property owners and residents and providing standards and education for remediation and prevention of pest infestation and sanitation violations.Other issues include enforcement recommendations, including restructing fines for non-compliance with the housing code and allocating funds for inspection services. The proposal includes a temporary fee of $8 to $10 per unit per year for implementation of these regulations.The timeline for these proposals is relatively short. Later this month, a final draft meeting will be held, and the city council is expected to receive the recommendations in October. The final ruling is anticipated for the beginning of 2009, Frick asserts.