Portland’s mayor and commissioners on Wednesday adopted an annual $60 per unit fee for landlords, saying the charge is necessary to collect better data about the city’s rental market but igniting fears the cost would be passed down to tenants.
The fee is to help fund the city’s renter services office, according to a government analysis. The office, stationed within the Portland Housing Bureau, enforces fair-housing laws, mediates landlord-tenant disputes and maintains a registry of rental units.
That registry is a key initiative that officials such as Mayor Ted Wheeler say is important to inform city housing policy. The cost of living in Portland has escalated in recent years, leading the Council to declare an emergency and pass “tenant protection” laws.
The City Council first approved the registry last year, but there was no fee attached and landlords’ compliance by noting their rental units on tax documents was optional.
More than 17,100 units have been registered under the voluntary scheme and thousands more registrations are pending, said Heather Hafer, a spokeswoman for the city Office of Management and Finance. Housing officials estimate there are at least 121,000 apartments and rental homes citywide.
Of those, at least 20,000 will be exempt from the new fee because they are government-owned or regulated affordable units. The remaining units are expected to generate as much as $3.9 million a year for the renter office.
During a hearing last week, Wheeler said it was unusual that Portland did not already have a rental registration fee already and that the city was “behind the curve.”
West Coast cities such as Seattle, San Diego and even Gresham have a similar fee, but instead of funding data collection it may also be put to use paying for building inspections of apartments and other functions.
Portland’s fee will also hit big landlords differently than mom-and-pop operations. A 200-unit property in Seattle costs $575 per year to register under a $175 base charge plus $2 per unit. The same building will cost $12,000 a year to register in Portland.
During last week’s hearing, several landlords testified to the City Council that the fee would cause them to raise rents or forgo hiring maintenance employees.
On Wednesday, the Council voted 3-1 to approve the fee with Commissioner Amanda Fritz opposed and Commissioner Jo Ann Hardesty absent.
Fritz said she supports the rental registry concept, but could not vote for it because of “additional regulations we’ve put on landlords,” hinting at policies enacted during Wheeler’s term that restrict how landlords vet tenants, require payment of tenant relocation costs in some cases and compel construction of affordable units in large developments.
Also factoring into Fritz’s decision was the fact that the fee, which she called “regressive,” will not pay for inspections of all rentals and does not exempt very low-rent mobile home parks.
Wheeler said he was “pleased” to adopt the fee, which he called “a priority of mine since I took office.”
“Quality data is something that both landlords and developers and tenants’ rights organizations have requested,” the mayor said. “This is the way we help fund the program to do that.”
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