Two Bend city councilors have joined dozens of local elected officials calling on the Oregon Legislature to pass a bill that would prevent landlords from evicting tenants without a reason.

Councilors Nathan Boddie and Barb Campbell, along with about 40 city councilors, school board members and county commissioners from throughout Oregon, signed a letter Tuesday urging state senators to pass the measure, which is awaiting a vote in the state Senate after passing in the House.

The bill would require landlords to provide cause when evicting tenants who’ve lived at a property for at least nine months. Landlords with more than four units who evict tenants for any reason other than violating the rental agreement would have to pay tenants one month’s rent.

A Senate committee stripped a provision allowing cities and counties to establish rent control policies, but it would prohibit landlords from increasing rent more than once in any 12-month period.

The committee also removed a requirement that tenants receive 90 days notice if they’re evicted after six months of renting. That would have gone further than a local ordinance passed in Bend late last year that increased notice requirements to 90 days for tenants who have lived in a unit for at least a year.

Extended notice could help renters throughout the state who face rental vacancy rates as low as 1 percent in Bend, 2.9 percent in Portland and 4.5 percent in Salem, Boddie said.

“In rental markets as tight as they are in Bend, it’s taking renters longer than 30 days to find a place,” he said.

Currently in Oregon, tenants who rent on a month-to-month basis can be evicted for cause or with no cause. Tenants who keep an unpermitted pet, fail to pay rent, disturb other tenants or otherwise violate their rental agreements can be evicted for cause, but they get a few days to fix the problem and avoid eviction. Landlords also must obtain a court order before forcing tenants from their property, giving tenants who believe they are being wrongfully evicted the chance to state their case.

A no-cause eviction simply requires landlords to give tenants a 30-day notice, or 60 days if they’ve lived at the property for more than a year.

The Community Alliance of Tenants, Oregon’s statewide renters’ rights organization, has seen an increase in calls about no-cause evictions being used to mask retaliation or discrimination, policy and organizing director Pam Phan said.

Landlords are taking advantage of no-cause evictions to retaliate against tenants who call about legally required repairs, she said.

In other cases, landlords have pursued no-cause evictions because they’re uncomfortable with a tenant’s race or nationality, or because they’re concerned an elderly tenant might die in the rental property, she said.

But landlords in Central Oregon argue the bill pits tenants against landlords without solving the state’s housing crisis. And the region’s legislators do not support the measure. Reps. Knute Buehler, R-Bend, and Gene Whisnant, R-Sunriver, opposed the bill in the state House. and Sen. Tim Knopp, R-Bend, voted against passing it out of committee.

Central Oregon Rental Owners Association President Melody Luelling said the bill and a similar measure that died last year have caused owners to sell their rental properties. She worries it could prevent owners from giving a no-cause notice so they can sell or remodel rental homes.

“There are times that you need a no-cause notice, and for them to do away with it is just not beneficial,” said Luelling, who rents out several single-family homes, duplexes and triplexes in Bend. “It’s creating more of an issue than it’s helping anybody.”

Bend resident Duane Oakes said if the bill passes, he may have to sell the single-family home he’s rented out in southwest Bend for 11 years. The measure effectively kills the no-cause eviction, he said, making it more difficult and expensive to get rid of a bad tenant.

“Every time I turn around, they keep eroding my rights as a property owner,” Oakes said. “The renter didn’t buy the house, but they’re getting all the rights.”

But Boddie, who also rents a house to a local family, said he’s open to any policy changes, including state regulations, that could help renters.

“I’m a landlord, and these aren’t scary things that run people out of the market,” he said.

— Reporter: 541-633-2160; jshumway@bendbulletin.com

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