Portland Commissioner Chloe Eudaly’s Tenant Screening Plan Might Survive Court Challenge

WW obtained a copy of the city's legal analysis of the proposed ordinance.

An apartment complex in East Portland. (Abby Gordon)

Portland Commissioner Chloe Eudaly this week gets a long-awaited hearing on her revised ordinance to regulate the way landlords screen tenants, with a goal of ensuring people with criminal backgrounds aren't excluded from housing.

But will it hold up in court? Quite possibly.

The ordinance has "a low to moderate risk of being invalidated" by a lawsuit, according to a May 20 legal analysis by city attorneys, newly obtained by WW.

Eudaly in recent weeks has revised the ordinance to reduce the risk of being sued, the memo makes clear, but city attorneys also warn that losing in court could prove costly: "If the city were to lose a suit based on a federal constitutional challenge it would face liability for attorney's fees….[and] such fees could be substantial."

(The city's legal memo can be read here.)

Eudaly's office says the legal analysis represents good news for the ordinance.

"Every new policy presents a measure of legal risk, and the classification of 'low to moderate' risk is great news for our Fair Access In Renting (FAIR) ordinance," says Margaux Weeke, a spokeswoman for Eudaly.

"Acting in an overly cautious and conservative manner has often prevented us from protecting our most vulnerable community members, and that trend cannot stand," Weeke says. "FAIR is a codification on the local level of federal Fair Housing Law. We have engaged our highly capable city attorneys (as well as numerous community organizations) in developing the language included in FAIR, and we are confident that this policy will withstand any potential court challenges."

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