SALEM — A controversial proposal to ban most no-cause evictions while giving cities the freedom to adopt their own rent-control policies passed the Oregon House Tuesday, April 4, on a 31-27 vote.
House Bill 2004 now heads to the Senate after weeks of debate between lawmakers, many of whom have been inundated with personal stories of hardship by Oregon tenants and landlords.
The proposal includes a web of exemptions and special circumstances, mostly for the benefit of landlords. But the overall goal is to put a stop to what's become an ongoing narrative of people living month-to-month seeing their rents suddenly spiked or leases abruptly terminated — often displacing them back into a costly rental market.
Democratic Rep. Karin Power, a freshman lawmaker from the Portland suburb of Milwaukie and chief sponsor of HB 2004, told her colleagues about how a 72-year-old constituent and her husband were evicted three times without cause within the last year and half.
"Rents are sky-rocketing throughout our community," Powers said. "I cannot imagine the stress and anxiety this has caused her, and others like her who have also asked for my help. Each move cuts ever-deeper into their savings."
Under HB 2004, no-cause evictions would be allowed during the first six months, with 30 days' written notice, for tenants living month to month.
After the six-month mark, no-cause evictions would be banned. If 90 days' notice is provided, landlords may evict month-to-month tenants for specified reasons, such as repairs, renovations or sale of the property, and they must also pay outgoing tenants one month's-worth of rent to cover relocation costs.
Many of these provisions provide exemptions for small-scale landlords who, for instance, live on the property themselves and rent out extra rooms or property owners with four or fewer units.
Additionally, the bill would allow cities and counties to adopt their own rent-control policies customized to the needs of their individual jurisdictions — a degree of autonomy that localities are not currently afforded by state law. Local rent-control policies would still have to abide by the various landlord exemptions laid out in HB 2004.
"Renters who are paying their monthly rents are paying for property mortgages, maintenance, utilities and property taxes as surely as if they were owners of the apartments or homes they live in," Barbara Ray, a Salem resident, said in written testimony last week while the bill was being debated in committee. "They deserve reasonable notice that ... will allow them a chance to find a suitable home in today's high rent market."
A few members of the Democratic majority joined House Republicans in opposing the bill Tuesday, saying it would exacerbate the supply-shortage and rising-cost problems it aims to solve. They argue landlords, especially those whose incomes rely on one or two modest properties, would be discouraged from making necessary updates or further investing in Oregon real estate.
"Landlords feel like they are going to have to take desperate measures. The number of calls that I received from landlords freaking out about this, because they don't know if their investment is sound anymore," said Rep. Duane Stark, a Republican from Grants Pass, Oregon. "Our desperate or our extreme actions in this building are going to lead to desperate measures from landlords."
Charlie Tabasko, a property broker for Waldport Realty Co. in the coastal town of Waldport, Oregon, blasted lawmakers in testimony last week for putting property owners on the hook to solve the state's housing problems.
"As for this bill and its approach to make the landlords bear the burden of society's inequities is simply just off the wall and should die a quick and permanent death," Tabasko said.