Summer has finally arrived! The days are warm, the skies are blue, and all Oregon counties are in some stage of reopening. All is well with the world. Well, not quite.
As I write this, the Oregon Legislature is meeting in a Special Session to pass legislation primarily related to the COVID-19 pandemic and police reform. I had hoped to write that with respect to the statewide moratorium on evictions put in place by Governor Brown’s executive order, a new, more balanced law was being put in place. However, that is not quite how it turned out. By the time you read this, I am sure there will have been several news reports and summaries regarding the legislation, House Bill 4312. Here is my short version: Oregon landlords may not terminate any lease or evict a tenant for non-payment of rent, or terminate any lease without cause, at least through September 30, 2020. One exception: landlords may terminate leases if they have accepted an offer to purchase the dwelling from someone who intends to occupy the dwelling.
As exasperating as this legislation is, it does not go as far as the “rent forgiveness” position advocated by various tenant organizations. Unfortunately, it does place many landlords, especially the “mom and pop” landlords that comprise most members of RHA, in financial peril. We all recognize the moral hazard this bill creates by allowing any tenant to simply not pay rent until October 1, with no penalty and no guarantee that the missed rent will ever be paid. Despite testimony offered by landlords and organizations like RHA Oregon, MFNW, and ORHA, the legislature did not adopt a means test or restrict the rent deferral to those tenants impacted by COVID-19. This feature distinguishes Oregon’s approach from places like Los Angeles and New York City. I suspect that someone will file a lawsuit in response to this, but given the backlog caused by the closure of the courts, it is unlikely any such suit would be resolved before the end of the emergency period.
So where do we go from here? Here is what Rental Housing Oregon will focus on during the next 90 days:
- We will provide education in the form of virtual courses, panels, and mentor sessions to clarify the impact of the legislation; I encourage you to sign up for one of these Zoom presentations on our website at rhaoregon.org.
- We will prepare forms for your use in October that meet the requirements for giving notice and negotiation a repayment plan for tenants.
- We are advocating for rental assistance for landlords, in the form of legislation to be taken up in the next special session; please be prepared to add your testimony when that time comes!
- As we are unable to hold either our Under a Starry Night event or our Annual Picnic this summer, we are instead undertaking fund raising to assist our members in severe financial distress. This is a great way that those of us who are not impacted by the COVID-19 crisis can assist our colleagues who are.
I wish to thank our lobbyist and the members of the RHA Legislative Committee for their work and encouragement during the special session. I also thank everyone that participated in the RHA Oregon and MFNW rent surveys in April, May, and June. Your comments were especially helpful. We joined with MFNW to provide our members, the Governor, and the Legislature with a picture of the landlord-tenant landscape during COVID-19. We will take a break and see how the situation plays out for the next 90 days, with our next survey likely in October.
Happy Independence Day!
RHA Oregon President