A strong bipartisan vote of the Oregon Senate has advanced a bill that gives tenants more time to pay past-due rent and protects their future ability to rent.
The 25-5 vote on Wednesday, April 14, sent Senate Bill 282 to the House, where the chairwoman of the relevant committee has already taken part in shaping the bill.
Its key provision would not extend the current pandemic-related moratorium on evictions past June 30, or forgive back rent. But the bill would give tenants until Feb. 28, 2022, to pay back any rents due from April 1, 2020, or make arrangements to obtain rental assistance. The current deadline is June 30.
Tenants would have to stay current on rent after July 1. But they could not be evicted for nonpayment of past-due rent during the extended grace period.
Sen. Kayse Jama, D-Portland, led a work group of tenant and landlord advocates to broker a bill that in its original form split them apart. He is also the chairman of the Senate Housing and Development Committee.
"Imagine you are a mother of four and you lost your job and you're not able to pay your rent. Imagine that and how difficult it is. This is a reality of Oregonians, regardless of which district they live in or whether they are urban or rural," Jama said. "This is a moment where all Oregonians need to step up — and this body needs to step up — to protect all Oregonians."
What broke a potential deadlock was the prospect of millions in state and federal aid: $200 million from the state budget, and $300 million or more in federal funds, including President Joe Biden's pandemic recovery plan that he signed on March 11.
"This is a pragmatic measure, because we have coming to Oregon probably in excess of half a billion dollars that qualify for renter and landlord relief that will take care of a great deal of this back rent owed in a straightforward way," Sen. Jeff Golden, D-Ashland, said. "But that money won't be here before the existing deadline to pay back rent."
Sen. Dick Anderson, R-Lincoln City, said the state housing agency has acknowledged problems in starting up the $150 million landlord compensation fund that lawmakers approved Dec. 21. (The federal money may be administered separately.)
"We need to ensure that tenants and housing providers can both avail themselves of the assistance available so we can avoid an eviction cliff," Anderson, who ended up voting for the bill in committee, said.
Sen. Betsy Johnson, D-Scappoose, said the bill was weighted heavily toward tenants, but she voted for it anyway. "I am doing so in the belief that the Legislature will recognize the important role of landlords and fully compensate them through grants, tax credits or both," she said.
Landlords have proposed a tax credit, subtracted directly from taxes owed, to help them recoup losses in rental income. Its prospects are uncertain given the amount of direct state and federal aid that may be coming.
The five votes against the bill were cast by Republicans Fred Girod of Lyons, Dallas Heard of Roseburg, Dennis Linthicum of Klamath Falls, Art Robinson of Cave Junction and Kim Thatcher of Keizer.
Among other provisions of SB 282:
• Potential landlords would be barred from screening out applicants based on COVID-era evictions. The bill would allow sealing of evictions during COVID from a tenant's record.
• Credit history reports would be barred from reflecting any late payments during the moratorium. Landlords would be barred from screening out tenants based on nonpayment of past-due rents during the eviction moratorium and grace period.
• Landlords could not evict tenants for doubling-up/occupancy limits that are narrower than current law, during the COVID period when people have had to share housing due to the pandemic and wildfires.
• Increased damages would remain in effect temporarily for retaliation violations by landlords during the COVID era.
"SB 282 will protect people's homes while also ensuring that people's rental record won't be permanently harmed due to the pandemic's massive job and income loss that affected so many Oregonians," Sybil Hebb, an attorney for the Oregon Law Center, said after the vote.
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