This post was authored by Alexandra Haggarty. Alex is a summer clerk at Otten Johnson, and a rising 3L at the University of Colorado Law School.
In a case challenging a Portland, Oregon ordinance, a federal judge granted a preliminary injunction to a group of building owners who would have been compelled to post a potentially misleading message. The judge, suspecting the city was not forthcoming about its real motive behind the ordinance, found the requirements failed strict scrutiny and burdened First Amendment rights.
Portland has long encouraged owners of unreinforced masonry buildings (“URMs”) to retrofit and reinforce their properties to be stronger in the event of a major earthquake, but has remained unable to garner enough political and public support to mandate doing so. Instead, it implemented an ordinance requiring owners of designated buildings to display exterior placards disclosing the risks of major earthquakes in URMs. The ordinance required the placard state: “This is an unreinforced masonry building. Unreinforced masonry buildings may be unsafe in the event of a major earthquake.” The ordinance also required owners to (1) include a tenant notification provision in lease applications disclaiming risk and (2) document compliance with the ordinance.