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FIR-1.02 - Illegal Residential Occupancy in Commercial Buildings


Administrative Rule Adopted by Portland Fire & Rescue Pursuant to Rule-Making Authority




To establish uniform procedures for evaluating and enforcing a course of action when regulating illegal residential occupancy of commercial buildings. This policy will also serve as a reference for other city bureaus that may assist in the hazard abatement and/or legalization of the habitation.


This policy applies to all commercial buildings located where Portland Fire & Rescue (PF&R) has authority for code enforcement and that are found to have an illegal residential occupancy.


Illegal Occupancy: An Illegal Occupancy occurs when a building is occupied in a manner: 1) other than the approved use as recorded in the files of the Bureau of Development Services [BDS] or 2) in a manner not authorized by City Code. (Portland City Code [PCC] 31.20.024)       


Illegal Residential Occupancy: An Illegal Residential Occupancy exists when tents, campers, motor homes, recreational vehicles, or other structures or spaces not intended for permanent residential use or occupancy are constructed or converted without permit and are occupied for residential use. (PCC 29.50.050)


Legalization: the process of bringing a structure back into code compliance via the BDS permit process.


Residence: a building used as a home. (Merriam-Webster dictionary.)


Residential: used as a residence. (Merriam-Webster dictionary.)


The Chief: the chief officer of PF&R or authorized representative. (2000 Portland Uniform Fire Code [PUFC].)



When an illegal occupancy is discovered which includes residential occupancy of a commercial structure not approved by BDS for such use, it shall be regulated by the Chief and/or the Neighborhood Inspection Section of the Office of Neighborhood Involvement (ONI). 

Although the PUFC grants the Chief authority to remove illegal inhabitants from commercial buildings with cause, it is not always prudent to do so. The availability of alternative housing and weather conditions; the age, mobility, and financial circumstances of the residents; and if the inhabitants ask to temporarily remain in place are a few of the factors that impact the decision process.

Common responses to the discovery of an illegal residential occupancy:

• The inhabitants realize they have been "caught" and voluntarily vacate the premises. This is a common scenario in artist studios where the owner has installed a futon to occasionally spend the night away from their normal residence.

• The inhabitants realize they have been "caught" and due to immediate circumstances they request additional time to remove their belongings and vacate the premises (24-72 hours typically).

• The inhabitants are unable to vacate the premises because of immediate circumstances and request permission to continue the habitation. They are willing to "legalize" the dwelling and are cooperative with authorities during the process.

• The inhabitants knowingly and wantonly exhibit total disregard for their own or others safety and refuse entry and/or to vacate or to comply with official directives.

When entry is denied and/or the occupants refuse to leave the site, this office may need to obtain an administrative warrant to perform the inspection and/or forcibly remove the tenants unless the Chief deems the situation to be an imminent danger to life and property. When the Chief determines that conditions exist that create an imminent danger to life and property the Chief may order the use of force to immediately remove occupants or take such steps as necessary to restore the property to a safe condition.

These situations usually involve a two step process of abatement of immediate life hazards via enforcement by this office and may involve legalization under permit through BDS. Agencies such as ONI may also need to be involved in the process.

Under the BDS legalization process, most violations found during the initial inspection are handled in the following manner:

• BDS Inspector verifies the situation.

• The property is posted.

• A violation notice is sent to the owner to begin the legalization process.

• The property owners are given 40 days to correct the violations and call for a final inspection.

• A re-inspection is performed.

• If the property owner fails to correct the violations and call for the final inspection within the required 40 days, they will be billed a code enforcement fee on a monthly basis until the violations are corrected as provided in City Code.

BDS and ONI have tools to deal with the forceful removal of inhabitants from the property if necessary. In imminent situations, they have the option of initiating an "accelerated hearing" with the City Code Hearings Officer. However, this accelerated hearing may take 10-12 days and there is no guarantee that an order of vacation will be granted. If a vacation order is granted and the occupants refuse to comply, they have an administrative warrant process to forcefully remove the occupants. In the past, they have used the police to enforce vacate orders under the administrative warrant process. However, it is not unusual for this process to take up to 30 days depending on the circumstances.

In the past, the Fire Marshal's Office (FMO) has been successful in obtaining an administrative warrant in as little as one day. However, this process may be influenced by many factors including the time of day or day of the week.

Note that these cases remain open for BDS and ONI until the occupancies are legalized for residential occupancy or the occupants vacate and the building is restored to the approved occupancy.



2000 PUFC Article 1, 1998 Oregon Structural Specialty Code as adopted by the City of Portland, Portland City Code Titles 12, 29, and 31.


The following procedures will be followed by FMO personnel when an illegal residential occupancy is discovered. The procedures will be addressed in two sections, enforcement and legalization.


1. Upon discovery of the illegal residential occupancy, the inspector shall carefully gather as much information as possible about the inhabitants and the options available to them.

2. Prior to taking any action, inspectors shall notify and relay information about the illegal residential occupancy to their immediate supervisor. In most cases, the inspector will remain on-scene until further directions come from a supervisor.

3. The supervisor taking the call will immediately initiate an emergency meeting of the administrative review board. Notification of the members of the board will be made in an expeditious manner (e-mail, pagers, phone, in person) and will consist of the time and place to convene as well as the purpose of the meeting.

4. The administrative review board shall minimally consist of all available On-Duty administrative members (Senior Inspectors, the Chief Deputy Fire Marshal, and the Supervising Engineer) and shall convene as soon as possible. The Fire Marshal shall be notified in all cases deemed sufficiently dangerous to require the immediate removal of inhabitants or the need to place interim safety measures in place in the case where inhabitants cannot or will not vacate immediately. The Fire Marshal will attend when possible and may invite any other participants as deemed necessary such as On-Duty suppression chiefs or local fire company officers.

5. The administrative review board will decide the course of action to be taken by the on-scene inspector. This information will be communicated to the inspector in the most efficient manner.

6. If the administrative review board determines the inhabitants must be removed immediately and they refuse to vacate, an Administrative Warrant shall be obtained and served according to established procedure (See FMO procedure for requesting an Administrative Warrant, F:\Office30\User\Policy\Miscellaneous Procedures).

7. The inspector will:

A. Generate an inspection report detailing the violations and any temporary safety measures to be put in place during the legalization process.

B. Contact the Fire Liaison at BOEC (911 Center) and request an addition to the Premise Information screen indicating illegal residential use.

C. If the anticipated time to provide corrections will exceed 40 (forty) calendar days a stipulated agreement will be developed between the FMO and the person responsible for the property and shall be signed by the responsible person receiving the report. If the responsible party refuses to sign the agreement, the FMO shall initiate a Code Hearing to seek required corrections.

D. If needed the inspector will complete the PF&R Fire Watch form (300.04) and instruct the responsible party on the process to be followed. Note: if other violations exist which are unrelated to the illegal habitation and will have a different abatement timeline, they shall be documented on a separate inspection report and entered in FIRES 2000 as a Special Inspection.


In all cases where the inhabitants are not vacating the premises or modifications have been made without benefit of permit to the building requiring legalization or restoration to original configuration, a designated member of the FMO administrative board will notify BDS and/or the ONI Neighborhood Inspection Section to begin the legalization or restoration process.  For current, detailed steps, refer to BDS guidelines.                   

The BDS/ONI process will generally follow these steps:

1. Create an "Alert" folder in Tracking Review & Construction System (TRACS) for the illegal use of the property. The "Alert" folder entry shall include:

A. a description of what was found that makes the property an illegal residential occupancy

B. other pertinent concerns the inspector may have

C. the contact for the property

D. the fire inspector to contact to arrange entry.

2. Notify the designated BDS/ONI support staff contact (may be listed on addendum), by telephone or by email and log a Complaint Notice. The notice shall include the:

A. property address

B. TRACS "alert" folder number that was created to document the violations

C. name and telephone number of the Fire Inspector who is assigned to the case.

3. The designated BDS/ONI support staff contact will deliver a Housing Card to the currently designated Building Inspector(s) assigned to review these cases (see addendum).

4. The Building Inspectors will decide who will contact the referring Fire Inspector to arrange an inspection of the property. The decision will be based on the area of the city that the property is located and the type of structure involved. In the event the designated building inspectors are not available, the support staff contact will refer the case to the District Housing Inspector for appropriate handling.

5. When necessary, BDS/ONI will also assign a process manager to the case, especially if the process appears that it will be lengthy. A process manager is a technician who works in the Development Services Center and assists a permit applicant in navigating the permit application and approval process.



Addendum:  BDS/ONI Support Staff & Shelter and Relocation Resources

BDS/ONI Support Staff


Designated BDS Support Staff Contact:     Phone:
Lisa Dilbert 503-823-7891
Designated Building Inspectors:  
Curt French 503-823-7328
Peggy Swift 503-823-7375
Corrine Streumpf 503-823-7318
ONI Contact: 503-823-7306


Revised 7-16-04

Shelter and Relocation Resources

The following agencies can provide assistance with shelter and relocation:


Organization     Phone
Albina Ministerial Alliance    503-285-0493
City Team Ministries 503-231-9334
Harbor Light 503-239-1259
Multnomah County Human Solutions    503-988-5201
Portland Impact 503-988-6000
Portland Rescue Mission 503-227-0421
United Way/211 Referral 503-228-9131/503-222-5555


Revised 7-16-04



Originally adopted by Fire Marshal as Fire Prevention Division Policy Manual Document A-2, effective July 23, 2004.

Filed for inclusion in PPD by Chief of Portland Fire & Rescue September 27, 2004.