Oregon tenants and their advocates asked the Legislature to restore some protections from eviction enacted earlier in the pandemic. (Getty Images)
Renters and tenant advocates on Monday urged Oregon lawmakers to revive some pandemic eviction protections, while critics warned that restoring those regulations would make landlords raise rent or stop leasing altogether.
Senate Bill 799, discussed in the Senate Housing Committee, would postpone evictions for not paying rent for up to 60 days while tenants seek rental assistance, and it would require courts to set aside certain eviction judgments. Lawmakers will work to compromise on the bill, said committee chair Sen. Kayse Jama, D-Portland.
“It’s my intention to make sure we have some sort of protection being passed this session for eviction prevention, but I also understand that this is a really complicated issue,” Jama said.
The measure is a response to evictions skyrocketing since protections for tenants expired last fall. Oregon had a moratorium on evictions for not paying rent from April 2020 until June 2021. That was replaced by a safe harbor law, extended several times, that guaranteed tenants who applied for rental assistance weren’t evicted while waiting for their applications to be processed.
Beginning Oct. 1, 2022, landlords were able to resume giving tenants notices of either 72 hours or 144 hours to pay their overdue rent or move out – 72 hours when their rent is eight days overdue and 144 hours or six days when it is five days overdue. The bill would change those notice periods to 10 or 13 days.
And if a tenant applied for rental assistance, the bill would trigger a 60-day safe harbor period. Tenants couldn’t be evicted for nearly two months while waiting on state or local organizations to process their applications.
The Oregon Law Center, which supports the bill, calculated that about 1,550 evictions were filed each month in 2019. Evictions plummeted with the moratorium in 2020, and they stayed below 1,000 per month through the end of 2021.
Since the eviction protections expired, Oregon has averaged around 2,155 eviction filings each month – a 43% increase since 2019. That number reflects only those filed in circuit courts. The Oregon Law Center estimates that many more people lose their homes through informal evictions, prompting them to move out in response to a warning or threat from a landlord.
Kim McCarty, executive director of the Community Alliance of Tenants, said the current three or six-day notice requirements don’t give tenants or organizations that want to help them enough time to stave off evictions. Because of limited resources, many agencies that provide rent assistance don’t help a tenant until they’ve received an eviction notice, she said.
“This starts a three-day sprint to find help,” McCarty said. “First, they need to get the help. They need to find the money, they need to cut the check and then they need to get that money delivered to the landlord. Think of how long it takes most businesses to pay an invoice, and you can see that the timeframe is unreasonable.”
Dianne Cassidy, a Lake Oswego resident who owns apartments and opposes the bill, said renters should know as soon as they sign a lease when rent is due and that they need to pay it on time. Extending notice periods just means that landlords will be forced to pay the costs for housing people for free, she said.
Cassidy said three recent evictions cost her about $45,000: roughly $10,000 to repair damage in each unit and $15,000 in unpaid rent. That’s money she planned to use to save for retirement and to care for her son, who has disabilities, she said.
“Seventy-two-hour notice is simply the title of the notice,” Cassidy said. “Everybody who signs a lease knows from the day they sign it, what day the rent is due and how much is due. So when they come up short, they know in advance that something is going to happen.”
Jason Miller, legislative director for the Oregon Rental Housing Association, told lawmakers that the eviction protections approved during the pandemic were never meant to be permanent.
“They were extreme measures taken during extreme times, where thousands of people were out of work for months because of government-mandated shutdowns,” Miller said.
He said that restoring the 60-day grace period would cause small landlords to sell their rental properties, and property managers of all sizes would increase rent, charge higher security deposits and have stricter criteria for rental applications to mitigate the risk of going months without rent payments.
The measure also would require landlords to include information about how to find rent assistance and legal assistance on eviction notices and court summons. Patricia Byrum, a renter in Keizer, told the committee that despite holding a master’s degree, she struggled to make sense of the complicated legal language in notices she received from her property manager.
“I needed time,” she said. “I needed time to contact legal aid services and remedy the situation. With two advanced degrees, but no law degree, I needed time to translate the legalese sent to me into something digestible.”
The measure would require circuit courts to annually set aside judgments and seal records from evictions if it has been at least five years since the court ordered them. Records would be sealed sooner if no money was involved or if the landlord and renter reached a compromise. Setting aside judgments and sealing records means that people could honestly answer “no” to screening questions about whether they had ever been evicted.
Current law allows tenants to apply to seal court records related to evictions during the COVID-19 pandemic, that are older than five years or that didn’t include judgments against a tenant. However, supporters of the bill contend that the process of sealing records is difficult and expensive for tenants.
SB 799 is part of a package with other bills intended to protect tenants, including Senate Bill 611, which would cap rent increases at no more than 8% or 3% plus inflation, whichever is less. Oregon’s statewide rent control law now limits rent increases to 7% plus inflation. Inflation last year meant that landlords could hike rent 14.6% in 2023.
Sen. Wlnsvey Campos, D-Aloha and the sponsor of the latter bill, told committee members that eviction protections and limits to rent increases are one piece of a solution that also includes building more housing.
“When we’re facing a crisis, we have to do everything we can,” Campos said.
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