Landlords VS. Tenants – City of Portland Rent Control Ordinance

The following is an email I sent to all 5 city councilors in Portland, with nary a peep back.  It must be my cologne…….I also sent this to 9 State of Oregon House Reps (House Bill 2004), and by golly, I got 2 responses back!  Take a read, it’s just one take on the “battle” afoot in the City and State too.


Dear Mayor and City Commissioners,

I’m hopeful this email is read and deliberated upon, at least a little, as our city is extremely divided via the new ordinance(s). While I know basic intentions are noble by your votes to enact, there was very little lead up to Oct ’15’s push and now this one, to find a workable solution for ALL involved.   I’m hopeful you all understand if a decision is mandated at the expense of the other side, whether short or long term, it solves nothing.  And even if/when this ordinance sunsets 7 months from now, our economic and rental markets are not going to back up to the point of  “affordable”.   It’s very logical to conclude there will be another round, more enactments, and a whole lot more hard feelings, at best, if we all keep walking this same pathway.  

I’d like each of you to consider one of the premises that the “crisis” everyone seems to be in, is indeed man made.  In fact, what isn’t man made?  The recession was too, and short of what mother nature provides us, everything is man made.  What the metro area and the state has going for it, is the nation’s highest appreciation rate in property, incredible live-ability, and the best job growth in the nation as well, all man-made.  And when you line these dots up, what you get is in-migration, in fact, a whole lot of it.  So man made or not, landlords in our fine city are simply reacting to Economics 101, which is the most basic level of supply and demand.

Here is another way to look at the “problem”, which is there really a problem?  At what point does a $1500 2 bedroom apt become unaffordable to anyone if that unit is shared by two people?  That’s $750 per person, not even $10,000 per year to be housed, and yet somehow affordability is in question.  For that matter, my firm has extremely nice units for rent, $1150 in the city, same two bedrooms, even more affordable yet….and they are not filling quickly at all, in fact, they sit empty for half a month plus at a time. I’m simply not convinced housing is not affordable to the degree people think.  I do believe it is not affordable if one draws a ring around certain areas of Portland and thinks that every area, every ring, has to be specifically affordable to all.    

Another tertiary problem with this ordinance is somehow a landlord has to be beholden to a yes/no decision by a tenant, which may or may not have anything to do with the tenants ability to plan ahead, save a little monies, better themselves, and so on.  As a housing provider in the metro area, I can tell you story after story of how rents can’t be paid, yet somehow there is $5,000 worth of electronic equipment in the unit and a new car sitting outside in the parking space.   It’s just a very slippery slope for a landlord to have to be entirely beholden to a rent roll plan, through time, because of a timing element with a given tenant.  What everyone has lost sight of, at least in my purview, is the contract of “space” is workable to each side at will, not by force.

In pointing out the above, my hope is for each of you to realize this entire “problem” has many shapes and sides to it.  I think the ordinance is too short sighted, and respectfully stated, it lacks deep and critical discussion and exploration of implementation.  I would ask that you all consider a far deeper probe into the longer term implications to both sides, and outcomes to the same.

Now to a quick note on my background and some solutions too……my firm manages roughly 125 properties, which houses roughly 800 tenants.   While I do disagree with the ordinance, I appreciate the need for it in some incarnation.  Like most folks tend to do, I will complain with the best of them but I also have some ideas for consideration:

  1. How about taking existing rental stock, and give those property owners some economic “credits” to put units into the bucket of “affordable”?   It could be a mix of tax relief to city and county, fees or such, that simply internally creates the housing, without anyone having to build a single unit!   You don’t need to create fancy tax schemes, and funds, and gifting to non-profits and so on…….this is simply giving a duplex owner an incentive to make one unit “affordable” by some way, shape, or form.  This then becomes a collaboration between gov’t and private entity to solve the problem together.   
  2. With the help of Multnomah County and the State too, allow property owners to elect to a “low income” provider, and then take the property completely off the tax rolls.  Counties and the State are stake holders in this as well, let’s utilize their talents and opportunities, to help those who own property, rent to those who are in the need of “affordability”.  
  3. Tenants who are deemed “affordable challenged” should have to have a proving criteria to the same.   There should be some protocols to be followed, so the very definition to my above example of 65 inch TV’s and new cars are not the cause of “affordability” problems.   We’d all agree, those are man-made too.

I’m hopeful someone reads this and ponders it in some way, shape or form.   I have more questions than answers for sure, but I also want to know how I can help each of you too, please just ask me.   Together we win, divided we lose.  


  1. Marcus Elmer August 11, 2017 at 5:45 pm #

    Awesome article. Thanks!

    And, by the way, as a landlord who only owns one property in Portland, my question is simple. How is it legal in a democracy for the city to override a contract that I have already established with another individual?

  2. Greta September 13, 2017 at 3:35 pm #

    Well said, and I agree for the most part. I do see an issue with one of your solutions, however. Having been a renter for many years (and now a homeowner), I rented a duplex from a property owner who designated one unit for “less qualified” renters, as you suggest. It was a disaster for all the other tenants who had to live around that unit. That situation only reinforced my belief that most housing issues are man-made. We were reliable renters who actually improved the property but, after many ignored complaints, we moved to get away from the (very loud and trashed) “affordable” unit. I’m not convinced that designating one or two units among many is a fair solution for people who can and do pay full price for their homes. In fact, that policy has the potential to drag the whole property down. Remember the broken windows theory?

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.