Lawmakers hear from tenants on rent control, no-cause evictions
PORTLAND — Just days after Portland officials passed an ordinance requiring landlords to pay relocation costs to tenants evicted without cause, some state lawmakers are working to pass similar rules statewide.
Seventeen Democratic legislators heard from some 200 tenants about how the housing crisis has affected them during a forum Saturday, Feb. 4, at Highland Christian Church in Northeast Portland. The lawmakers also heard residents' views on statewide legislation that would take the Portland ordinance on no cause evictions a step farther, as well as a proposal by House Speaker Tina Kotek to lift the statewide ban on rent control. The legislation was in the works before passage of the city ordinance.
The event was organized to give a voice to tenants who have less access to the Legislature than powerful landlord lobbying groups, said Rep. Alissa Keny-Guyer, D-Portland, chairwoman of the House Committee on Human Services and Housing.
"We are going to work very hard this year in the Legislature to eliminate no-cause evictions," Speaker Kotek said, eliciting applause and cheers from the crowd. "…This is a fairness issue."
During the event, Kotek said she met residents of the Titan Manor apartments in Portland's St. Johns neighborhood, where more than 50 tenants were evicted without cause after a California management company bought the property.
One of the tenants, Coya Crespin, a single mother of two, said she was heartened by the turnout of lawmakers and tenants Saturday.
"To see all of these people and to see how the community wants to band together, it makes me feel like Portland is a special place to live, and that's why people are coming here," Crespin said.
Because Portland's ordinance is retroactive 89 days, Crespin said she could either receive relocation costs from her landlord or work out a new rental agreement with the company.
There are at least two iterations of both no-cause evictions legislation and rent control bills that have been proposed in the Legislature.
Housing advocate groups, such as Stable Homes for Oregon Families, are pushing for passage of House Bill 2004. That legislation lifts the ban on rent control, prohibits no-cause evictions and requires landlords to pay relocation costs for certain just cause evictions such as evicting tenants so the homeowner can move into a property. The required relocation assistance would be equal to three months' rent. Those who violate the ban on no-cause evictions also would face a penalty of the equivalent of three months' rent, plus any damages.
Senate President Peter Courtney, D-Salem, has signaled he may lack the votes necessary to pass that legislation in the Senate.
The Portland ordinance gives exemptions to landlords who own only one dwelling, rent out a property weekly, rent rooms in their living space, and when a property owner plans to return to a home after a less than three-year absence.
Unlike the ordinance, House Bill 2004 would require a property owner who plans to return home after an absence to pay the tenant relocation costs. Landlords who want to sell a rental property also would have to pay the relocation costs. Only homeowners who are renting out rooms on the property of their primary residence would be exempt from having to pay relocation costs.
The statewide legislation also is distinct in that it does not specify a limit on how much landlords can raise rent. The legislation simply allows cities to impose rent control.
Hearings on the bills start March 2, said Rep. Keny-Guyer of the housing committee.
The Portland ordinance requires landlords to pay relocation costs of $2,900 to $4,500 when they evict someone without cause, or if a tenant has to move because rent increased by 10 percent or more in a year.
The ordinance already faces a legal challenge by Multifamily Northwest.
The provision related to rent increases violates the state's ban on rent control, said John DiLorenzo, who represents the association of property owners and managers.
Economists largely agree that such policies are usually counterproductive to efforts to increase the supply of housing and decrease rents. An inadequate number of units is the main cause of the state's housing crisis, affecting both price and availability, state economists have said.
"What we are hoping to do for this bill is return the tool to local jurisdictions so they can explore this for themselves," said Rep. Karin Power, D-Milwaukie, a co-sponsor of House Bill 2004. "We've heard anecdotes about it working and not working in some circumstances around the country, but Portland is a little bit different and what works for Portland might not work for another city."