East Portland Landlord Gives Tenants a Choice: Pay a $375-a-Month Rent Hike, or Get Evicted

Aleina Langford has until Aug. 19 to tell the property manager whether she’s moving out or signing a lease.

Aleina Langford is faced with an impossible choice.

The landlord of her outer Southeast Portland apartment has given her two options: leave the apartment by Oct. 21, or sign up for a one-year, $1,200-a-month lease—a 45 percent rent hike from what she used to pay for the two-bedroom apartment.

She has until Aug. 19 to tell the property manager whether she's moving out or signing a lease.

"I have limited resources and two kids to think about," Langford said. "I'm pretty scared where we may end up."

The choice faced by Langford illustrates the limitations of Portland City Council protections for tenants. Last year, Commissioner Dan Saltzman successfully pushed to add a 90-day notice for rent increase over 10 percent and no-cause evictions.

But the notice, mailed July 19, forces 10 tenants at the apartment complex called Ash Street Properties to choose between a rent hike or an eviction—and the only help City Hall offers in that the tenants can't be kicked out until October.

"It's a building full of very vulnerable folks," said Margot Black, a Portland Tenants United organizer, who's met with almost all of the tenants of the building. "There are single moms living there, many are people of color," she said.

Related: What it's like to be evicted, and not know why.

The increase from $825 a month to $1,200 might not raise eyebrows in a city where the median rent for a two-bedroom apartment is $1,660. But Black said this increase is unusual, both because of its distance from central city—the building is near Southeast 119th Avenue—and because of the property manager not allowing the renters to continue their month-to-month agreements.

The apartment's property manager, A&G Rental Management, says it is following the rules.

"As you may be aware, the rental market in Portland has seen ongoing increases in the average market rental rate over the last several years," Rebecca Smith-Marx, head of accounting at A&G Rental Management, tells WW in an email.

"The current tenants had not had rent increases in quite sometime, some actually for years," Smith-Marx writes. "The rental increase reflects fair market value and as the new owners agent, we provided the required 90 day written notice."

Langford's two-bedroom apartment isn't perfect. Despite sending in multiple maintenance requests, Langford says she doesn't have a working stove. There's a bullet hole in her porch from a drive-by shooting. Sometimes, she has to kick people off of her stairwell, which Black says is sometimes littered with hypodermic needles.

But she says the apartment is her family's sanctuary. Before finding it, she and her family were homeless for 6 months after a no-cause eviction. She lived with family members who would take her and her two children in while she found an affordable place to live.

"This was our place," she said. She likes the neighborhood—it's near public transportation, there's a park two blocks away, and grocery stores are within walking distance. She says her son recently got accepted into a nearby preschool, and her 17-year-old daughter's friends live close by.

She says she no longer has the luxury of moving in with family members, who she says are experiencing their own housing issues.

"They're already living in the part of Portland where people get pushed when they can't afford rent," said Black.

Related: Portland's rent spike spreads east, pressuring low-income residents.

Black says the "going rate" for Portland apartments shouldn't apply to a building like this.

"Is $1,200 a month the going rate for a place with bullet holes? A place where you can't walk down the street without stepping over sleeping homeless folks and tweakers?" Black said. "The going rate doesn't matter when you're poor," Black said.

Langford says she's weary and desperate.

"I cried for about 4 days after I found out. I'm kind of cried out now," Langford said. "I'm just feeling unsure about what is next for me."

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