Pamela Freedman is a transplanted 36-year-old Portlander who's rented in Northwest for the past decade. Since moving here from Arizona, where she completed her MBA, Freedman has been evicted twice-this year from a place she'd lived in for only five months-after her landlords uttered those dreaded words: "We're going condo."
She got booted last month from her $585-a-month studio in the Jan Mar Apartments at Northwest 26th Avenue and Raleigh Street, soon to be Raleigh Courtyard Condominiums. With condo conversion a hot topic in Portland, WW sat down with Freedman, still unpacking boxes in her new apartment in Northwest, to ask what it's like to get forced out of a rental and find out what she's learned about renting in Portland.
WW: What do you think about the condo-conversion trend?
Pamela Freedman: I think it sucks because for those who want a rental, there's not going to be much left. Unfortunately, who it really hurts are the students and the elderly.
So what happened to you?
It's been the worst rental experience I've ever had. I moved in, in March. Right before I signed the lease, they notified me that the building had been sold. I didn't think anything of it. Until not even a month later, they told me they were raising the rent. So I moved in, I got the notice that the rent was being raised, and it was practically consistent construction. I was unemployed at the time, so I was home all day. You were constantly hearing it. There was never really a notice of, "We're going to be doing this work. Just wanted to let you know." At the last condo conversion, they would at least let us know when they were doing something so you had an idea.
Did you have much interaction with the landlord?
Not much. He wasn't super-friendly. There was always that "I don't want to rock the boat because I don't want to have to move and he can kick me out at any time." So that's why none of us really complained all that much about what was going on.
Did you ever consider calling a renters'-rights group or anything like that?
One of our neighbors actually downloaded all the renters'-rights information, in particular about the noise. And we found out they can have somebody doing construction from 7 am to 6 pm at night Monday through Saturday. So that's why we did complain on Sunday and Labor Day when we were having construction.
It sounds like you were fairly powerless: "I'm a renter and I can get booted...."
Yeah, that's how it felt. You know buildings get bought and sold all the time. Big deal. So you change who you write your rent check to. I never thought to ask what's going on. And then when it came up that the building was on the market we were like, "Why would you do that?" But nobody wanted to ask questions, and those that did didn't get answers anyway.
Why not buy a house and avoid all this?
Can't afford it right now. I don't have a steady income, so I'm not going to qualify for a loan. You're getting less and less choice as to what you can live in or where you can live.
When you look back, is there anything you would have done differently?
Yeah, I wouldn't have moved in. They told me it was sold before I signed the lease, but I didn't think much about just the ownership change. What I have changed is, I now look for something inside of a building because if it has its own entrance and own exit, I think it's more likely to become a condo.
Got any school-of-hard-knocks advice for renters?
Ask a lot of questions. I mean, you may not get the answers, but at least ask. Try to get as much information, stay in tune. If you see something going on all of a sudden, really pay attention to what it is.
To all of the people out there converting or who are landlords, have respect for your tenants. If you have good tenants, treat them well. And if you are converting, be nice and give them notice, because it's never a good time to move. Realize that other people have lives and that 30 days' notice can be very disruptive.
The Community Alliance of Tenants ( www.oregoncat.org ) runs a renters'-rights hotline at 288-0130 (leave a message and expect a callback within a week. Legal Services of Oregon runs a tenant hotline for low-income folks 9 am to noon Mondays and Wednesdays at 648-7723.
Multnomah County had 10 condo conversions-totaling hundreds of units-so far this year.