Relaxed tenant screening, security deposits headed to City Council

Commissioner Chloe Eudaly is preparing to introduce contoversial requirements opposed by many landlords

By: Jim Redden, Portland Tribune. View full article here:

A controversial measure to prevent landlords from refusing to rent to someone with a criminal conviction could be considered by the City Council as early as next week.

Commissioner Chloe Eudaly has been working on the proposal meant to increase the availability of housing to more people for months. Documents released by her office say the intent is "To lower barriers to tenancy that disproportionately impact people of color and people with disabilities in the City of Portland."

But an early version was criticized by nonprofit affordable housing providers who said it could put vulnerable tenants at risk and expose them to liabilities. The most recent version still requires that most people with criminal convictions be accepted as tenants. Landlords would be required to take applications from them and would have to justify not renting to them in many cases.

The proposal establishes other screening criteria that landlords must comply with, including income requirements, along with protocols for charging and keeping or refunding security deposits.

Multifamily NW, an organization which represents market-rate housing providers, also opposes the current proposals as too restrictive, too complicated and too costly.

"We urge city commissioners to hold off and work collaboratively to develop good public policy that doesn't threaten neighborhood safety," said Deborah Imse, the director of the organization.

Eudaly made protecting renters a major theme of her successful upstart 2016 campaign against former Commissioner Steve Novick. Since joining the council in January 2017, she convinced it to pass a measure requiring landlords to pay thousands of dollars in moving expenses to tenants who are evicted without formal cause or who move if rents are increased more than 10% a year.

Eudaly continued working on other protections after those passed. But last September, leaders of eight nonprofit affordable housing providers signed a letter to the council saying the screening requirements she was proposing — including the protections for most people with criminal records — went too far.

"Our primary concern is for the safety of other tenants and existing communities. We are mission-based and work to help people overcome barriers to housing, including people with extensive criminal backgrounds. However, the proposed policy removes thresholds for certain convictions that could negatively impact existing vulnerable residents," reads the Sept. 14, 2018, letter.

The letter asks the council to create a broader process for drafting the new proposal, including involving representatives of "non-profit mission-based affordable housing organizations, social responsible property managers and owners, homeless service providers, culturally specific organizations, and tenant and fair housing advocates."

Imse said that did not happen. According to Imse, her organization has worked to develop an alternative proposal with nonprofit landlords and other groups that provide services to tenants that the council should consider.

"Rental housing providers want to reduce barriers to housing. Since 2017, housing providers statewide have been developing new screening processes, which we are rolling out this year. But Commissioner Eudaly is not considering our collaborative work in her proposal,' said Imse.

You can read the September 2018 letter here.

You can read a previous Portland Tribune story on the issue here.