Last month I used this column to raise my voice a bit more than usual with respect to the regulatory environment in which we, as landlords, find ourselves. There are few places in the country where it is more challenging to comply with the myriad regulations of developing and managing rental properties than Portland, Oregon. I ended my comments with the prediction that if this continues, housing costs will increase, and neighborhood diversity will decrease. I also promised to share some ideas that may help to reverse, or at least slow, this trend.
First, educate yourself! I have written on this theme enough times since I became RHA Oregon president that I shouldn’t need to repeat myself here. But I can’t help myself. Learn about what resources are available to help you comply with state and local regulations; this month’s RHA dinner meeting is a great place to start with a panel of three of our vendor affiliates who specialize in different aspects of tenant screening. Watch your e-mail and the online RHA calendar for additional relevant classes.
Second, educate your tenants! I budget a 90-minute meeting with new tenants when I meet them to sign the rental agreement and hand over the keys. I review the most important clauses in the rental agreement and each of the addenda. I provide concrete examples of what constitutes a violation of a clause in the agreement. When I raise rents, I explain how much of the increase is from passing through expenses, such as the $5/month registration fee imposed by the City of Portland, the $10/month tax increase associated with the Metro Bond for affordable housing, or the $10/month increase in insurance premiums (your numbers may differ).
Third, educate your civic leaders and state legislators! Most state legislators hold monthly “coffees” or other casual gatherings with constituents. These are good opportunities to share your concerns and the impact of regulation on your business. I have found that although I may not always agree with my political leaders, they are usually open to listen to my argument; I like to think they will at least consider my position when evaluating proposed regulations. I try to avoid lecturing, but I also try to explain the real consequences of these regulations on our industry; see examples above.
Finally, become politically involved! In addition to the various public offices at the city, county, metro, and state levels, there are many other commissions and advisory committees at each of these levels. The small-landlord-business community serves hundreds of thousands of Oregonians; we will need to continue to increase our involvement with these entities if we are to have any impact on future regulation. Even if you cannot personally participate, you can support candidates that support landlords. One way of doing this is to contribute to a PAC such as the Good Landlord PAC. Remember that in Oregon you may take a $50 tax credit against such contributions ($100 for couples). Talk to your accountant for specifics.
Each November brings two important annual events: voting day and Thanksgiving. Of course, I urge you to vote. I also hope that you can use the holiday to take a break from your property management tasks and spend time with family and friends.