Multifamily NW, Landlords Sue the City of Portland Over Tenant Screening Ordinance

The federal lawsuit says one of city Commissioner Chloe Eudaly's signature achievements violates landlords rights.

Multifamily NW, a trade association whose members own or manage more than 30,000 apartments in Portland, today filed a federal lawsuit in U.S. District Court in Portland alleging that a tenant-protection ordinance Portland City Council passed last year violates their rights.

"Plaintiffs are suing the City of Portland because it has passed laws that make management of rental housing so costly, burdensome, and risky that plaintiffs will have to either raise rents—to cover the additional costs and risks—or sell their rentals," the lawsuit says. "Plaintiffs are also suing the city because the new laws violate their civil rights of free speech and due process. Additionally, plaintiffs are already regulated by federal and state law, which preempts the city's conflicting new law."

At issue is a new policy City Council passed last June called the fair access in renting (FAIR) ordinance. The policy, driven by Commissioner Chloe Eudaly, requires landlords to relax various criteria, including criminal background checks, credit scores and income requirements, used to screen tenants.

Eudaly worked on the policy for more than two years, and its passage marked a major victory for her and the tenants' rights platform upon which she ran for office in 2016.

"It is no secret that Portland has a long history of overtly racist housing laws—the effects of which still shape our city today," Eudaly said before casting her vote in support of the ordinance. "What we fail to acknowledge more readily is that many of our current laws continue to uphold discriminatory practices. While the language may be less explicit now, the effect is just as clear: we continue to see communities of color, and especially black residents, pushed to the margins of our city and beyond at an alarming rate."

Eudaly anticipated the new policy might prompt a legal challenge. As WW reported, she asked the city attorney's office to evaluate that risk last year before passage. The response: the policy carried with it a "low to moderate risk of being invalidated by a lawsuit."

The lawsuit filed today, which names two individual landlords, Janet Newcomb and Jerry Mason, seeks an injunction to block implementation of the FAIR ordinance before it goes into effect March 1.

As is normally the case, City Attorney Tracy Reeve says her office will not comment on pending litigation. Eudaly's office also declined to comment.