Portland’s housing safety office has fallen behind on tenant complaints about illegal rent increases, according to city staff.
In a Dec. 28 rent board meeting, staff members in the city’s Housing and Safety Office cited staffing shortages and ongoing permitting renewals as reasons for not being able to follow up on tenant requests right away.
The issue arose during a heated discussion during the Dec. 28 rent board meeting about an application for a rent increase for a single-family home in the Woodfords neighborhood. The rent board rejected the increase, leading to an argument between rent board member Amir Familmohammadi and Jessica Hanscombe, the city’s director of permitting and inspections.
Familmohammadi said it was “not acceptable” that the Housing and Safety Office would not immediately follow up on the rent increase that had already happened at the property on Bay View Drive. The request was to increase rent on the single-family home from $2,300 to $3,800.
The city’s rent board was created in 2020 as part of the rent control ordinance voters approved. It is not a governing body, but meets monthly to hear complaints from tenants and hear requests from landlords to raise rent, making recommendations to the city.
Zach Lenhert, a licensing and housing safety manager for the city, told Familmohammadi at the Dec. 28 meeting that the office was understaffed and behind on tenant complaints. He said if a tenant does make a complaint about rent increases, the office will eventually follow up on it.
“We’re behind on tenant complaints because we’re right in the middle of the renewal process,” Lenhert said, adding the department was processing 20,000 application renewals around the city, not just rent applications. “Other than that, we’re really short-staffed.”
“That’s absolutely not an acceptable answer,” Familmohammadi countered.
“We have priorities in this department and this is not the only thing this department does,” Hanscombe said. “They are responsible for licensing every business in Portland.”
Familmohammaddi resigned from the board in January and has moved out of Portland.
The board unanimously rejected the rent increase request and asked the Housing and Safety Office to look at the rent for this property to determine whether it is valid. They encouraged the property owner to reach out to the city about what are allowable rent increases.