Bend rental market tightens

A for rent sign is posted out front of a home on Capella Place off of 27th Street on Wednesday. (Ryan Brennecke / The Bulletin)

Oregon residential and commercial tenants will still be shielded from evictions through Sept. 30, after which a new law will give them six months to pay back rent owed their landlords.

The Legislature approved an extension of the moratorium in House Bill 4213, which passed the House 43-14 and the Senate 19-8 before the special session closed on Friday.

It replaces Gov. Kate Brown’s April 1 executive order, which ends June 30.

Sen. Ginny Burdick, a Democrat from Portland and the bill’s floor manager in that chamber, said the bill does not forgive back rent and that tenants still must pay landlords what they owe. But late fees cannot be charged, and the back rent cannot be reported to credit-rating agencies.

Burdick herself is a landlord.

“We have been afflicted by a plague and we are all paying the price,” she said. “We all must do our share.”

But Senate Republican Leader Fred Girod of Lyons, also a landlord, said the bill would lead to tenants either leaving Oregon before the end of the six-month grace period or facing a massive back payment.

“I find it quite sad, because what we’re doing is placing a lot of debt on people who do not necessarily have to have that debt,” he said.

After the moratorium ends Sept. 30, the bill sets a grace period through March 31, 2021, for tenants to pay any rent owed. If they make partial payments, the money is applied to current rent first.

Tenants must inform landlords within two weeks whether they intend to use the grace period, either by mid-October or another date set by the landlords. If they do not, tenants can be charged a penalty equal to a half-month’s rent. Landlords can send notices to tenants about the deadlines, but they cannot send tenants eviction notices until 90 days after nonpayment on Dec. 31.

The bill does contain an exemption, sought by the Oregon Association of Realtors, for purchasers of homes intended to be their primary residences but were still occupied by rent-paying tenants when Brown issued her April 1 order.

During House debate, Rep. Jack Zika, R-Redmond, echoed criticisms by some witnesses during hearings by the special session committee about why lawmakers did not limit relief to tenants who lost income or jobs resulting from business shutdowns during the coronavirus pandemic.

That condition was included in some emergency declarations by local governments, including Multnomah County.

But Rep. Julie Fahey, a Democrat from Eugene who was the bill’s manager in the House, said such declarations omitted how tenants could show proof and who would settle disputes. She said courts already faced case backlogs because of limited access to public buildings.

“Many tenants were not able to provide proof because their employer would not provide documentation or because the employer had gone out of business,” Fahey said.

Brown’s April 1 order, which required no linkage to lost income, superseded the local declarations.

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