The Oregon House approved a bill Tuesday to cap rent increases across the state and end no-cause evictions for many tenants, all but guaranteeing its passage into law.
Gov. Kate Brown has promised to sign it, and thanks to an emergency clause, the bill would take effect immediately after she signs it.
Brown has made affordable housing a priority but cautioned the bill could lead to “a lot of headaches” if not paired with a $20 million funding package.
The bill would limit rent increases to 7 percent plus the annual change in the consumer price index. A Statesman Journal analysis showed the 7-percent-plus-CPI cap still gives landlords room to raise rents each year; proponents say the limit is aimed at stopping price-gougers.
Landlords also wouldn’t be allowed to terminate month-to-month rental agreements without cause after tenants live in their units for a year.
Still, landlords could end rental agreements so long as they give 90 days’ written notice and pay the tenant an amount equal to one month’s rent. Landlords are exempt from the requirement to pay a month’s rent if they manage four or fewer units.
The measure has made Oregon a nationwide leader in tenant protections, and advocates say rent control is the first step in addressing high rent, gentrification and a lack of affordable housing. New York has a statewide rent control law, but cities can choose whether to participate.
California restricts the ability of cities to impose rent control. Last November, voters defeated a ballot initiative that would have overturned that law.
Patty Wentz from the group Stable Homes for Oregon Families said the Oregon bill offers statewide protection from “unfair no-cause evictions and extreme rent spikes.”
“With this historic vote, Oregon lawmakers have recognized that basic protections for renters are essential as the state and local communities work to increase the supply of housing for people with moderate and low incomes,” Wentz said.
Still, apartment industry representatives criticized its passage Tuesday. Doug Bibby, president of the Washington, D.C.-based National Multifamily Housing Council, said he didn’t doubt the existence of a housing affordability crisis in Oregon.
“However, SB 608 will worsen the imbalance between housing supply and demand by allowing for rent control across the state,” Bibby said.
“While the intent of rent control laws is to assist lower-income populations, history has shown that rent control exacerbates shortages, makes it harder for apartment owners to make upgrades and disproportionally benefits higher-income households,” he said.
Opponents have raised concerns that lawmakers will decrease the 7-percent-plus-CPI limit. Deborah Imse, executive director of rental housing association MultiFamily NW, said she hoped lawmakers would “stay steady on the 7 percent cap.”
SB 608 passed the House 35-25, with three Democrats casting “no” votes: Reps. Caddy McKeown, D-Coos Bay; David Gomberg, D-Central Coast; and Brad Witt, D-Clatskanie.
Next up is the funding package included in Brown’s proposed budget, which, for instance, would pay for technical assistance in the form of a help line and legal aid for landlords and renters.
“I don’t think it’s realistic to expect that this bill can be implemented in a successful way without the resources on the ground to make it happen,” Brown recently told reporters.
Lisa Morawski, a spokeswoman for the governor, said the package is meant to:
- Enhance legal aid for renters with housing issues
- Address the relationship between domestic violence and sexual assault survivors and homelessness
- Increase fair housing training for tenants and landlords
- Tenant education and services package
- Expand rent guarantee “ready to rent” or “rentwell” classes
- Maximize the utilization of Housing Choice Vouchers
- Educate landlords in rural Oregon communities
- Apply technological innovations to help tenants find and access available housing
Morawski characterized the bill as one in a suite of actions that lawmakers need to take to address Oregon’s housing crunch: “While it will provide immediate relief, we need to focus on building supply in order to address Oregon’s housing challenges for the long term.”
Politics professor Jim Moore of Pacific University said that because the funding package isn’t included in SB 608, the appetite among lawmakers for it may be lower, unless firm deals are already in place.
Otherwise, “this may be a bit of a push,” Moore said.
Still, the move can be seen as Brown holding an “olive branch” to landlords, from whom she may need support in the future, depending on, for instance, what kind of tax proposals arise, he said.
SB 608 also has underscored dividing lines between the Democratic supermajority and Republicans, who were informed early on that no amendments would be accepted.
Tensions spilled into public while the bill was still in the Senate Housing Committee: Sen. Fred Girod, R-Stayton, got up and left the room as Sen. Shemia Fagan, D-Portland, rebuked his proposed amendment to nix the bill’s emergency clause.
Moore said he’ll be watching to see if this bill and the way it was put together – “especially the no amendments” – poisons lawmakers’ working relationships on smaller legislative proposals.
Contributing: Connor Radnovich, Salem Statesman Journal; The Associated Press
Follow Jonathan Bach on Twitter @jonathanmbach.
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