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The City of Portland, Oregon

Office of the Ombudsman

A division of the Portland City Auditor's Office

phone: 503-823-0144

email: ombudsman@portlandoregon.gov

1221 SW 4th Avenue, Room 310, Portland, OR 97204

Development Services

Year

Problem

Resolution

2018

Rules protecting children from exposure to lead dust during demolitions went into effect July 1, 2018. Demolitions approved but not completed prior to that date were allowed to occur under the old rules, which did not require suppressing lead dust. Under an informal policy of Development Services, permits issued before July 1, 2018, were automatically extended even if they had been expired more than a decade. As a result, hundreds of demolitions could occur under the old rules.

The Ombudsman expressed concerns about the informal policy, given the well-documented health threat that lead dust poses, especially to children. Development Services changed the policy, requiring that any demolition permit applicant seeking re-activation or an extension to comply with the new rules.

2018

Council began requiring that homes built before 1917 be manually deconstructed. Deconstruction reduces the spread of toxic lead dust to neighboring properties where it can be especially harmful to children. In contrast, homes built after 1917 may be mechanically demolished. Mechanical demolition rules did not require suppressing lead dust. Older homes covered by the deconstruction ordinance are concentrated in affluent and gentrifying neighborhoods. As a result, children in higher income neighborhoods were protected from exposure to lead dust while those in economically vulnerable parts of the city were not. 

The Ombudsman recommended that Development Services adopt regulations to eliminate the disparity in protections. The Commissioner-in-charge directed the bureau to draft rules designed to contain lead dust during mechanical demolition. City Council adopted the rules.

2017

A commercial property owner contacted the Ombudsman about the nearly $25,000 liens on his property that the Bureau of Development Services assessed even though he had appealed the underlying code violations. After two years waiting for the bureau to render a decision on his appeal and facing mounting liens, he contacted the Ombudsman.  

The Ombudsman investigated and found that the liens had been erroneously assessed against the property because the owner had challenged the code violations by the required deadline. Development Services removed the liens. Development Services also acknowledged it cited one of the code violations in error and sustained the property owner’s appeal in part.

2015

 

A Bureau of Development Services subcommittee met regarding house demolitions in violation of state open meetings law, which requires public notice and the publication of minutes. 

Based on the Ombudsman’s recommendation, the bureau re-held the meeting in compliance with open meetings law. 

2014

A resident reported that the Bureau of Development Services was charging her credit card without authorization. The resident had a lien payment plan arrangement with Development Services whereby she would make individual payments of $35. 0 per month by personal check or one-time credit card payments. When she could afford it, she would sometimes pay double the monthly amount to pay off her lien more quickly. On multiple occasions Development Services charged her credit card more than the amount she owed. This created hardship for the resident, as she recently had surgery and was concerned about having enough money to make her mortgage payment. 

The Ombudsman investigated and confirmed that Development Services had both charged the resident’s credit card without the required authorization and had not refunded the overcharge.

Development Services accepted the Ombudsman’s recommendation to refund the resident for the unauthorized charges and develop internal controls to prevent recurring credit card charges in the absence of express and written permission from the resident. 

2013

A homeowner contacted the Ombudsman about mounting liens against her home because of a peeling-paint violation issued by the Bureau of Development Services. The homeowner stated she was experiencing severe economic and personal hardship and was unable to afford or otherwise address the peeling paint in a timely manner, thus incurring revolving liens and increasing penalties. 

The Ombudsman directed the homeowner to the BDS lien reduction review process and separately advocated that the lien amount be reduced due to mitigating hardship circumstances. BDS granted a partial reduction, which satisfied the homeowner.

The Ombudsman has and will continue to raise concerns with BDS management and the Commissioner-in-charge about the revolving lien system, including (1) the potentially disparate impact on low-income households and (2) the potentially unfair nature of a revolving lien system that does not distinguish between minor and significant violations.