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Portland poised to make it easier for people with bad credit, criminal histories to find a place to rent
After weighing a slew of tweaks Wednesday, the Portland City Council appears poised to push landlords to be more forgiving when they screen prospective tenants, loosening strictures on criminal history and poor credit that typically would disqualify applicants.
A vote is scheduled for next week even though Commissioner Jo Ann Hardesty, a vocal supporter, will be out of town, suggesting Commissioner Chloe Eudaly, the proposal’s champion, is confident of its chances.
And Mayor Ted Wheeler suggested he expects the majority of the council to approve the measure. He proposed six amendments, all but one approved by the council.
If approved, the ordinance would take effect March 1 — a delay from the original proposed start date of Oct. 1.
The ordinance sets “low barrier” screening criteria for landlords to use when they evaluate a renter’s application. It would limit checks to felony convictions within the past 7 years and misdemeanors within the last 3 years. Renters wouldn’t be rejected for credit scores above 500, a court eviction order older than 3 years or insufficient credit history.
The landlords instead may use their own criteria, but they’d have to provide written justification for denying a rental application.
Landlords have said the latter option would add costs and open them to legal liability, while the former would restrict their ability to protect their property and other tenants.
In all cases, landlords would generally have to process applications in the order received and may not require proof of lawful presence in the U.S.
The ordinance is intended to help renters with past convictions or credit dings find housing, particularly in a market where high costs already restrict their options. Eudaly has said those background check flags don’t accurately predict whether a tenant will pay the rent on time, damage the property or bother their neighbors and instead provide cover for discrimination.
The proposal also would bar landlords from requiring tenants to earn more than two-and-a-half times the rent in income. Landlords say that raises the risk tenants will fall behind on rent, but Eudaly argues that rising rents have left tenants little choice than to extend themselves further than is financially comfortable.
One of the amendments approved would allow landlords of all sizes to refuse a rental application from a prospective tenant who has previously violated a rental agreement with the same landlord.
Another would exempt certain shared properties, such as when a landlord lives in the other half of a duplex from the tenant, or if the tenant lives in an apartment built into the landlord’s house or yard. That amendment passed narrowly, and only after Commissioner Amanda Fritz reversed her vote.
Wheeler said this would put the ordinance in line with the city’s requirement that large landlords pay relocation fees when they evict a tenant. He said the ordinance could push small landlords out of the business of providing housing and perhaps turn a potential home into a vacation rental instead.
“If we create too much of an administrative burden ... it might just be easier for people to go click on the Airbnb site instead,” he said.
Eudaly pushed back, saying the city doesn’t have enough data to measure the impact of exempting small landlords.
“I frankly don’t think small-time landlords should be more able to discriminate than anyone else,” she said.
A companion measure would require landlords to more thoroughly account for security deposit funds withheld for repairs and to allow they be paid in installments over three months.
-- Elliot Njus
email@example.com; 503-294-5034; @enjus
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