Portland, Oregon passes tenant screening criteria restrictions

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By Rachel Monahan |

Published June 19 at 11:27 PM

Updated June 19 at 11:42 PM

City Commissioner Chloe Eudaly has successfully championed tenant protections designed to offer people with criminal histories a better chance at securing apartments.

The June 19 vote by Portland City Council to approve those protections represents a significant political victory for Eudaly, who worked toward passing the policy for the last two years. She says the final policy came from working and being pushed to understand how black Portlanders and others continue to face discrimination in the housing market.

"It is no secret that Portland has a long history of overtly racist housing laws—the effects of which still shape our city today," Eudaly said before casting her vote in support. "What we fail to acknowledge more readily is that many of our current laws continue to uphold discriminatory practices. 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."

She continued: "The heart of the Fair Access in Renting policies is about addressing the criteria that continue to be used in as a proxy for race, which includes criminal records, income requirements, and credit scores which leads to discrimination and disparate outcomes."

The ordinance requires landlords to consider applications on a first-come, first-served basis after providing 72 hours of notice for available apartments.

Landlords must not turn down a potential tenant for making less than 2.5 times the rent. The policy pushes them to use criteria that include accepting tenants who has a felony from more than seven years ago—or putting in writing their own reasons for a rejection.

The security-deposit ordinance limits security deposits in most cases to no more than one month's rent and restricts when a landlord has the right to take that money.

"We built the most comprehensive screening criteria reform policy in the country, and I am proud of how we did it and why," Eudaly added today.

Eudaly was elected in 2016 on a platform of addressing Portland's housing crisis. A month into office, in 2017, Eudaly quickly passed a "relocation ordinance," which requires landlords to cover moving costs in the event of a no-cause eviction or a rent increase of upwards of 9.9 percent. (The Oregon Legislature this session passed a landmark rent cap statewide, in a bill that heavily restricts no-cause evictions.)

Related: Portland Landlords Now Required to Pay Moving Costs for Tenants Evicted Without Cause

That policy had the support of Mayor Ted Wheeler, who had similarly campaigned on the issue. But on this policy the mayor was a reluctant supporter.

The successful vote had been expected since at least last month, when Commissioner Nick Fish signaled his support, providing the third vote. Today, Eudaly, Fish and Wheeler voted yes. (The vote was ultimately 3-to-1, with Commissioner Jo Ann Hardesty, who also publicly supported the ordinance, absent.)

Related: Portland City Commissioner Chloe Eudaly's Tenant Screening Rules May Now Have the Votes Needed to Pass City Council

City Commissioner Amanda Fritz voted no. In her remarks today, she warned the new criteria would decrease investment in Portland's housing market and ultimately harm renters. (Fritz is also a skeptic of supply-side solutions to the housing shortage, including opposing some upzonings as well as residential infill project, which she has argued can increase displacement in some neighborhoods.)

Fritz also cited the lack of exceptions in the screening criteria for “violent crimes, even rape and murder” for landlords who want to use the city-created “low-barrier screening criteria,” rather than coming up with their own system to meet the city’s policy. “On the day of release from prison, every landlord in Portland would be required to accept that application if they use the low-barrier screening criteria,” Fritz said before voting against the ordinance.

The plans for the policy, first reported by WW last year, evolved over the two years, as Eudaly's office hashed out the details of the policy with stakeholders, tenant advocates and landlords.

They're essentially saying the criminal laws and judicial system are racist and unfairly target minorities, therefore Landlords shouldn't consider criminal records when determining risk of an application.

Question: who instituted the laws and put these judges in place? 

Question: why are they treating the symptom (application screening policies) and not the root cause (racist laws and justice system)?

They know the law isn't racist. There are a higher percentage of blacks in prison because a higher percentage of blacks commit crimes. When I screen an application, I don't care what color the person is; I care about the level of risk they represent and someone with a criminal past is a higher risk.

If these politicians actually believed the laws were racist, they would focus on fixing the laws and ensure minorities were treated fairly by the criminal justice system.