Portland Landlords Lose First Round In Suit Against Relocation Ordinance

Washington Courts Launch Eviction Resolution Program

A judge has ruled in Circuit Court in Portland against landlords who had challenged the city’s relocation ordinance passed earlier this year.

Judge Henry Breithaupt, a tax court judge sitting in Circuit Court, upheld the relocation assistance ordinance and ruled against the landlords’ argument that the relocation ordinance amounted to rent control and illegally sought to stop no cause evictions.

The city’s law allows tenants to collect between $2,900 and $4,500 when landlords use no-cause evictions or raise rents more than 10 percent in a year. Portland’s ordinance is set to expire in October along with the City Council’s housing emergency declaration.

“There were three things happening at the same time to put it in perspective,” John DiLorenzo Jr, the attorney representing landlords, told Rental Housing Journal.

“First of all we have a state law in Oregon that “pre-empts local governments from enacting ordinances which control rent – so it is a prohibition on rent control.

“We also have a state law that makes it clear that landlords have a right to issue no fault, or no cause, tenancy termination notices for month-to-month tenants,” he said. “The city believes that the state law prohibits it from banning no cause notices.” He explained that the city acknowledges that the state law imposes parameters on their ordinances that control rent or attempt to regulate no cause notices.  They do believe that their home rule authority allows them to enact tenant relocation payment requirements, even if they tie them to rent increases or no cause notices.

At the same time HB 2004 is now dead in the legislature. “That bill was a total failure,” he said.

Relocation ordinance was disguised rent control

“We argued in court that requiring landlords to pay relocation expenses that could amount to up to three times the amount of rent, when rent was raised 10 per cent or more, was tantamount to a penalty for doing what landlords have a perfect right to do under the state statute. And was in essence was disguised rent control,” DiLorenzo said.

“The court just did not buy that argument. I think it is a good argument. And I think the Court of Appeals may be receptive to it,” he said.

City officials cheered the ruling

Jamey Duhamel, the policy director for Commissioner Chloe Eudaly who was instrumental in bringing the law forward, issued a statement, according to the Portland Mercury saying: “At a time when the legislature has so blatantly turned its backs on tenants in Oregon, it is deeply gratifying to know that the only tool available to us has been upheld in the courts. Relocation assistance helps stabilize families and we intend to make sure as many tenants as possible know about it.”

In a letter to officials, Deputy City Attorney Dennis Vannier boasted that Breithaupt “just comprehensively rejected John DiLorenzo’s challenge to the City’s relocation-assistance ordinance enacted earlier this year, and conclusively ruled for the City on every claim…,” according to the newspaper.

Landlords considering appeal

“There are some complications. Under normal circumstance I would just tell you yes we are appealing. And we may in fact appeal,” he said.

“But the ordinance is set to expire on its own accord in October. So it is going to be up to our city council to decide whether they are going to renew it, or change it. They might renew it, or they might change it. And it might be a different ordinance and so the likelihood is that we will appeal.

“The appeal may be disrupted depending on what the city council in turn does. If they allow it to expire the appeal would be moot.

In terms of whether we appeal or not, “We cannot wait until October. We have to decide within 30 days of the judgment. And the judgment should be finalized next week. So I would say by mid-August we should know what we are going to do.”

Photo credit Feverpitched via istockphoto.com


Divided Oregon Supreme Court Upholds Portland Relocation Payment Ordinance