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Renter protection protest
By Christen McCurdy | The Skanner News
Published: 27 June 2019

Portland City Council last week passed two tenant-protection ordinances to change screening criteria and procedures, as well as capping the amount of money landlords can charge for security deposits.

The ordinances were put forward by Commissioner Chloe Eudaly and workshopped for nearly two years by the city’s Rental Services Commission. They passed 3 to 1, with Commissioner Amanda Fritz opposing the ordinance. Commissioner Jo Ann Hardesty was not present for the vote, but signaled her support in a written statement read by Eudaly.

The reforms include:

  • A first-in-time sorting process, requiring landlords to run each application in the order it was received;
  • Tenants do not need proof of citizenship or government-issued ID if they can provide other proof of identification;
  • Encouragement to use criteria that does not reject applicants with felony convictions that are more than seven years old;
  • Landlords can require tenants to earn 2.5 times the rent in monthly income for less expensive units, or 2 times the rent for more expensive units (as determined by federal criteria); Lessening credit barriers so landlords may not reject applicants with a credit score of less than 500;
  • Only the primary applicant’s financial criteria will be screened, though other adults living in a unit can be screened for other criteria; Limiting the amount of security deposits in most cases to no more than one month’s rent.

The Skanner reported in September that Multifamily Northwest, an advocacy group for landlords who own apartment buildings, had taken the unusual step of targeting some Portland renters with flyers warning them about the screening criteria ordinance.

Bearing the headline “Sex Offenders, Stalkers, and Felons Could be Your Neighbors!” the flyer suggested individuals contact their city council representatives. Spokespeople for city council representatives at the time said most of the negative feedback they received on the ordinance came from individuals who self-identified as landlords.

“While no one thing will solve the housing challenges everyday Portlanders face, these proposals are an important step forward to ensuring access to housing in this city is a goal that can be achieved by anyone. The protections provided to rental applicants and the limitations on screening fees and security deposit deductions will make renting more just and fair,” Hardesty’s written statement said.

Eudaly said screening criteria like credit scores and criminal background checks was a legal form of discrimination against groups Black Portlanders are disproportionately likely to be part of.

“While the language may be less explicit now, the effect is just as clear: We continue to see communities of color, and especially Black residents, pushed to the margins of our city and beyond at an alarming rate,” Eudaly said.

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