The Oregon Supreme Court last month heard arguments from landlords who lost appeals in lower court rulings that upheld the Portland Relocation Ordinance, according to attorney John DiLorenzo.
The landlords hope they will win with the Oregon Supreme Court.
“I think the argument went quite well. There was quite a bit of banter back and forth among counsel and the justices,” said DiLorenzo, who represents the landlords appealing earlier court decisions.
The landlords, who lost in lower court rulings, argue the city ordinance is in conflict with state laws that ban rent control. On March 7, 2018, the Portland City Council made the ordinance permanent and extended its application to landlords who own as few as one rental unit. The ordinance requires landlords to pay tenant moving costs if they want to increase rent by 10 percent or do no-cause evictions to move tenants out to rehab old apartment buildings to upgrade them.
During arguments one judge offered some thoughts that were encouraging to the landlords’ case.
“It doesn’t seem unreasonable to me to say that is indirectly the means of controlling the rent,” asked Justice Thomas Balmer. “And certainly the City Council meeting suggests that’s the way they viewed it,” according to Oregon Public Broadcasting.
Deputy city attorney Denis Vannier argued that it does not matter what council members said about the ordinance in the past — it’s how the ordinance functions that is important.
While it is not the kind of official rent-control policy seen in New York or San Francisco, DiLorenzo argued the rule discourages rent increases — and, therefore, is barred by state statute.
“The big question is, ‘What falls within that scope?’ And we believe that ordinances that control the rent do,” DiLorenzo said. “The court of appeals got hung up on the difference between a noun and a verb,” he told Oregon Public Broadcasting.
“The legislature has determined that rent control is a matter of statewide concern and proclaimed that no local government may enact any ordinance that either ‘controls the rent that may be charged for the rental of any dwelling unit,’ ORS 91.225(2), or that is inconsistent with that prohibition, ORS 91.225(7).,” DiLorenzo said when the trial court’s decision was appealed to the Court of Appeals.
The Oregon Court of Appeals ruled last year that the ordinance was not a form of rent control, as it did not put a hard cap on the amount a landlord could charge a tenant.
There was no indication when the Oregon Supreme Court might issue a ruling.