Tenants would get more time to pay past-due rent, and their future ability to rent would be protected, under a bill that is headed to a vote of the Oregon Senate.
An amended Senate Bill 282 was advanced Tuesday, March 30, on a 4-1 vote by the Senate Housing and Development Committee.
Though the bill does not extend the current pandemic-related moratorium on evictions past June 30 — or forgive back rent — it would give them until Feb. 28, 2022, to pay back any rents due from April 1, 2020, or make arrangements to obtain rental assistance. 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.
Among other provisions, the bill would bar potential landlords from screening out applicants based on COVID-era evictions and allow sealing of evictions during COVID from a tenant's record. It also would prohibit credit history reports on any late payments during the moratorium, and prohibit landlords from screening out tenants based on nonpayment during the eviction moratorium and grace period.
A group led by Sen. Kayse Jama, a Democrat from Portland and the committee chairman, came up with this version, whose original drew more than 250 comments from tenants and landlords during a public hearing March 4.
"All sides came to the table open-minded, with a willingness to work together and make sure they know what is at stake — that we want to take care of Oregonians who are struggling through no fault of their own," Jama said before the committee vote.
Also taking part in the group was Rep. Julie Fahey, D-Eugene, who leads the counterpart committee in the Oregon House.
Though the bill remains largely what tenant advocates want, what has changed is the availability of money for rental assistance beyond the $200 million that lawmakers drew from the state budget in a special session Dec. 21. Of that earlier amount, $150 million was for a new fund for compensation of landlords — who would have to agree to forgo 20% of past-due rents — and $50 million for assistance for tenants.
But Oregon is in line for $100 million from federal rental assistance funds approved in post-Christmas legislation — and more than $200 million in federal funds from President Joe Biden's pandemic recovery plan, which he signed on March 11, a week after the state legislative hearing.
That impending aid persuaded Sen. Dick Anderson, R-Lincoln City, to vote for Senate Bill 282.
"My vote will be to move it out of committee," he said. "But I will be watching the other bills that will provide funding for the overall success of the bigger picture."
The only vote against the bill was cast by Sen. Dennis Linthicum, R-Klamath Falls.
Another provision of the bill would bar evictions for doubling-up/occupancy limits imposed by landlords that are narrower than current law, during the COVID-19 period when people have had to share housing due to the pandemic and Labor Day wildfires.
The committee vote was good news for Erin Meechan of Gresham, who submitted testimony March 4 under the sponsorship of Stable Homes for Oregon Families. She is among the Oregon renters, estimated at between 11% and 15%, who are behind on their rents. She owes about $2,500.
"Oregon renters desperately need them to step up now and extend the grace period for repayment while the state and federal housing assistance gets distributed," she said in a statement after the vote.
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