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City wins first round in no-cause eviction fight

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Legal battle far from over as suit moves back to Multnomah County Circuit Court where state issues will be heard

City attorneys won the first round in the legal fight over Portland's new no-cause eviction policy Wednesday. U.S. District Judge Michael Simon refused to grant the temporary restraining order against the policy sought by attorneys representing two landlords.

The landlord attorneys also withdrew their federal claims against the policy after Simon expressed skepticism over them, allowing him to send the suit back to Multnomah County Circuit Court, where it had originally been filed. The city had moved it to U.S. court based on the federal claims.

But the fight is far from over. Although Simon did not think the policy violated the contract and due process clauses of the U.S. Constitution, he said the suit raised "interesting questions" about whether it violated the existing statewide ban against local rent control measures.

One of the landlord attorneys, John DiLorenzo, says he will not seek an expedited trail schedule in the state court. He will not request another TRO.

The new policy requires landlords to pay relocation costs ranging from $2,900 to $4,500 to tenants who are evicted without formal notice that they violated their landlord-tenant agreements. The same payments are also required if tenants choose to move after their rent is raised 10 percent of more in 12 months. The suit argues the required payments are so high, they amount to a de facto form of rent control.

Simon refused to grant the TRO for a reason that might surprise some people. It had been sought against the city, but the city is not actually enforcing the rental assistance requirement. Instead, tenants who do not receive such payments from their landlords can sue them and receive damages and attorneys fees if they prevail.

In an opinion released after he announced his decision, Simon wrote, "the Ordinance simply creates a legal right, or a cause of action, under which a tenant may to a landlord for damages. Thus, there is no order that this Court can enter against the City that would serve any useful purpose or have any practical effect."

Simon said the landlord attorneys may eventually prevail, however, writing, "at the end of this lawsuit, if Plaintiffs are correct on the merits, the Court may enter declaratory relief in their favor, which has the effect of a final judgment."

You can read his opinion here.

The City Council unanimously approved the new policy in response to Portland's affordable housing crisis and reports that tenants were being forced to move or even becoming homeless because of no-cause evictions and rent increases. The council is lobbying the 2017 Oregon Legislature to remove the statewide rent control ban.

To read a previous Portland Tribune story on the issue, visit tinyurl.com/z5p5mue.