Proposal pushes Portland homeowners to be more lenient when it comes to criminal history and bad credit

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Portland could try to push landlords to be more lenient with a potential tenant’s criminal history or credit problems with a set of new rental screening regulations.

The proposal, presented by Commissioner Chloe Eudaly and presented to city council next week, encourages landlords to use prescribed criteria that could double the number of approved tenants compared to the industry standard.

If landlords chose not to follow the looser checks, they could complete their typical tenant review, but then would have to go through additional city hoops that add cost and processing time.

Beyond long-standing fair housing laws that prohibit discrimination against protected classes such as race, gender, and family status, few other U.S. cities have looked so far into how homeowners can. choose the occupants of their accommodation.

Eudaly, who won her seat in a campaign focused on protecting tenants based on her own experience as a tenant, has long sought to meet the selection criteria. She was due to present a proposal in September, but withdrew it for further development.

“It does not solve all the problems,” said Jamey Duhamel, political director of Eudaly. “This is our best breakthrough based on what we know: housing is a basic need and a human right. “

Tenant activists say good tenants increasingly face barriers to finding housing, and the problem has only worsened with the city’s recent rental housing shortage.

“Not a day goes by that we don’t hear from someone who doesn’t earn enough money to qualify or whose credit isn’t high enough, but of course their credit isn’t. not high enough because he pays the rent first, ”said Margot. Black, a Portland Tenants United organizer.

Landlords say the new rules will force some small operators to step down, exacerbating the housing shortage. And the bottom filter bar could put their properties or other tenants at risk, they say.

But Eudaly staff members say many common tenant selection principles – including criminal and credit history – actually have little bearing on whether tenants pay rent on time or are ultimately evicted. for bad behavior.

The proposal offers owners two choices:

  • A “low barrier” screening regime that is more forgiving of older criminal convictions or past credit problems;
  • or the owner’s own selection, but with new requirements. The landlord should, for example, weigh the “additional evidence” submitted by the potential tenant, for example their participation in credit counseling. If owners deny the claim, they should state the reason for denying the claim, specifically addressing any additional evidence.

Regardless of the selection technique, the ordinance would require all landlords to post job vacancies 72 hours before they begin accepting applications and reviewing applications in the order they are received, two new requirements.

They also cannot require tenants to earn more than twice the monthly rent in income. Many landlords today require tenants to earn three times the monthly rent.

And it also limits the extent to which landlords can dig into the criminal histories of adult tenants who live in an apartment but are not responsible for paying rent. They can only consider one year of criminal and rental history.

The two-tier proposal puts homeowners in a difficult position, said Deborah Imse, director of the Multifamily Northwest homeowners association.

For one thing, homeowners can choose to use the city’s low barrier criteria. This could mean accepting tenants with criminal convictions including sex offenses, arson or burglary.

“If you let in people with that kind of experience into the property, you are also endangering the remaining 98% of the residents who are on the property,” Imse said.

Black, the tenant organizer, dismissed the concerns as alarmist.

“People we know are more likely to reoffend in a way that poses a risk to the community will still not be in our apartment communities,” under the policy, said Black.

Low barrier screening would limit checks to felony convictions within the past 7 years and misdemeanors within the past 3 years. Tenants would not be turned down for credit scores over 500, a court eviction order more than 3 years old, or insufficient credit history.

On the other hand, owners can do their own assessment. But it could increase the costs of additional background checks to review additional evidence, for example, and complete a required written notice outlining why an applicant was denied, Imse said.

The written opinion could introduce legal risks, she said.

“You are going to have to have a lawyer, because the way you write this refusal and the way you provide it is not something that someone is going to take the risk of doing on their own,” she said. declared.

Duhamel said the policy requires owners to provide only a non-discriminatory business reason for denying an application and does not introduce any additional legal liability.

“Ultimately, it makes discrimination more difficult to achieve,” she said.

The timing of the low barrier selection criteria for criminal record limits was decided based on studies that showed recidivism decreased after those periods, Duhamel said.

She also pointed out a subsequent study of over 10,000 households, funded by Minnesota Affordable Housing Providers, which found that criminal convictions were unlikely to predict evictions after two years for misdemeanors and five years for felonies.

Landlords who use the city’s low barrier tenant screening could find twice as many applicants would be approved, an analysis performed for Eudaly’s office found.

Lisa Bates, associate professor of urban studies and planning at Portland State University, maintained a database of local tenants pulled from the OneApp rental application portal through the proposed selection criteria.

Experience has shown that at least 70 percent of applicants would pass this level of exam, compared to 39 percent who would be approved by an industry standard developed by the Multifamily Northwest Owners Association.

This did not take into account the income requirements, which vary depending on the rental price.

The most common metrics that explained the difference between the two screening approaches were credit scores, deportation history and criminal history, Duhamel said.

The proposal, if approved, would almost certainly face legal challenges.

Seattle City Council in 2016 approved a first-come, first-served policy similar to part of Eudaly’s proposal. It was ultimately overturned under the Washington State Constitution after a judge concluded that “choosing a tenant is a fundamental attribute of real estate ownership.”

Another Seattle law prohibiting the use of arrest and conviction records in tenant selection faces a court challenge.

A companion proposal presented to Portland City Council at the same time would restrict how landlords account for security deposits when the tenant moves out, and allow tenants to pay security deposits in installments over three months rather than entirely at the end of the day. ‘advance.

–Elliot Njus

[email protected]; 503-294-5034; @stakes

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