In this column last month, I mentioned Oregon House Bill 2639, passed in 2013. This law requires Oregon landlords to consider federal rent assistance (e.g., Section 8 vouchers) as a source of income when screening applicants. The law took effect 1 July 2014, over four and a half years ago. Yet on any given day, I can always find an ad or two on Craigslist advertising a vacancy with stipulations such as “No Section 8,” or “Not set up for Section 8.” I hope that those using this language in their ads are not members of RHA; in case you missed the memo, such advertising is illegal under Oregon Fair Housing law.
April is Fair Housing Month and an excellent time for landlords to review current Fair Housing law in Oregon and in the specific cities or counties in which you own rental property. Are you familiar with the different protected classes? Do you know which exceptions apply to owner-occupied units? Do you know what to do if an applicant tells you they have a disability and requests “reasonable accommodation?” Do you have a plan of action in the event a tenant or applicant files a fair housing complaint against you? (Hint: the correct answer to the last one is “call my lawyer.”)
Compliance with Fair Housing law is not difficult, and there are many resources available to landlords. The Fair Housing Council of Oregon (FHCO) has several guidebooks available for download from their website (http://fhco.org/), including the New Landlords Guide to Fair Housing Law and a table of Protected Classes. If you are not familiar with the fraught history of housing discrimination in Oregon, I recommend that you take 15 minutes to watch the video on the FHCO website.
The issue of housing discrimination by landlords in the Portland metro area was brought to the forefront in a 2011 report entitled Analysis of Impediments to Fair Housing Choice. Improvements have been made in the past eight years, but work remains to be done. I believe the best way to achieve fair housing goals is through improved education of housing providers and tenants and enforcement of current law. However, there are some very loud voices in the Portland community advocating for changes in screening and security deposit rules that go far beyond current Fair Housing law. Under these proposed ordinances, security deposits would be limited to one month’s rent or just one-half month’s rent depending on whether the landlord charges first alone or first & last month’s rent to move in. Landlords would not be able to set a higher income threshold than two times rent. The use of criminal history as screening criteria would be strictly limited. The list goes on. The Portland City Council has tentatively scheduled hearings on these proposed ordinances at their meetings 3 – 4 April. Tenant advocates will certainly show up in force at these meetings; I hope Portland landlords will as well.
RHA continues to be a strong advocate for Fair Housing. One of our board members sits on the Oregon Housing Choice Advisory Committee, and another is a member of the Portland Fair Housing Advocacy Commission, which was established in response to the 2011 report. The next RHA class on Fair Housing will be held on 11 April, the 51st anniversary of the 1968 passage of federal Fair Housing Act. The course is being taught by Louise Dix of FHCO. I hope to see you there!
Ken Schriver, RHA Oregon President