By Damian Mann

(Medford) Mail Tribune

Oregon’s first-in-the-nation rent-control bill may have had the unfortunate side effect of hurting some of the very renters it was supposed to protect.

Some tenants say they saw hikes of up to $300 in their monthly rent, while some received no-cause eviction notices before Gov. Kate Brown signed Senate Bill 608 on Feb. 28. The law went into effect immediately.

Ashland resident Joe ­Tomlin received a notice to move out about two weeks after he began to actively campaign for the rent-control bill, which caps annual rent hikes at about 10 percent and prevents no-cause evictions.

“The timing of it was a bit uncanny,” he said. “It caught me off guard.”

Under the new law, landlords may still force tenants to move without cause with 30 days’ written notice during the first year of occupancy. After one year, landlords must show cause, such as failure to pay rent or damage to the unit. They also may evict tenants if they wish to move into the unit themselves or to conduct a major renovation. In those cases, they must provide 90 days’ notice and pay the tenant one month’s rent.

Owners of four or fewer units are exempt from the payment requirement, which protects so-called “mom and pop” landlords.

If a landlord’s main residence is on the same property as the tenant’s and the property has two or fewer units, the landlord may evict the tenant without cause even after the first year.

Tomlin, who received a no-cause eviction notice Jan. 26, is now couch surfing while he looks for another place to live.

“Luckily I have a very nice family who are helping me out,” said Tomlin, who works at Rogue Action Center and Rogue Climate.

Before passage of the bill, landlords were allowed under Oregon law to evict a tenant without a reason.

“We have members who are facing retaliation and experienced extreme rent hikes or no-cause evictions right before the bill went into effect, which would have protected them,” said Michelle Glass, director of Rogue Action Center.

Although the retaliation has caused tough situations for families, Glass said that was the norm before the passage of the bill, and landlords were protected by law even though they demanded stiff rent hikes.

“Essentially it was a free-for-all before this bill,” Glass said. “Any renter across the state, which is 40 percent of households in Oregon, was potentially 30 days away from losing their housing, and there was no limit on how often or how much landlords could raise rents.”

Glass said her organization has heard dozens of reports of tenants getting evicted or facing rent hikes of up to $300, but she doesn’t have enough data to determine how many were affected.

She said that during testimony before the Legislature, one renter described how his rent went up 109 percent, Glass said.

Claude LaBaw, president of the Southern Oregon Rental Owners Association, said he thinks most landlords try to be fair and don’t raise rents excessively.

“There’s probably a few bad apples, people who generally don’t have good moral values,” he said. “Personally, I’ve never raised the rent more than 5 or 10 percent.”

He said he’s trying to digest the law, but the way it’s written, landlords who own four or fewer units don’t have to abide by many of the new regulations. Also, the new law doesn’t apply to apartment complexes that are less than 15 years old.

LaBaw said many landlords are concerned about the new law, but he thinks that once the dust settles, it won’t be as bad as some people think.

“To be fair, it’s not going to affect a lot of people, only the people who are doing wrong,” he said.

For those in the throes of eviction, the new law offers cold comfort.

Krysti Oligney, a 29-year-old Grants Pass mother who lives with her fiance and three children in an apartment complex, said she received a notice to move out on April 30 from the two-bedroom unit she’s lived in for three years, and she doesn’t know where she will move to next.

“Right before I got this apartment, I was living in my car,” she said.

At the time, she had only her 8-year-old girl, but now she also has a 1-year-old girl, and her sister’s 14-year-old daughter has moved in with her.

“We try to make sure our kids are not affected,” she said.

Oligney said she was surprised when she received her notice Feb. 25 from Grants Pass Property Management.

“It was just a few days before the bill was signed,” she said.

Her notice didn’t provide any reason she had to vacate, but it indicated she paid her rent through February. She is on the lookout for a new place to live but said it’s difficult to find rental units in the Grants Pass area, where her fiance works.

“I have no idea what me and the three kids are going to do,” she said.

Paul Hurlburt, president of Grants Pass Property Management, said the notice sent to Oligney is a 60-day notice to vacate and is not an eviction, which is a court action.

“Tenants throw around the word ‘eviction’ haphazardly,” he said. “She has not been ‘evicted.’”

Hurlburt said his company is not required to give a reason for Oligney’s notice to vacate under the old law.

Still, the net effect of a notice to vacate or an eviction is the same: The tenant has to move out. The difference is that a court-ordered eviction becomes a public record that landlords can use to screen tenants, Hurlburt said.

Hurlburt’s company manages 600 units, and he said only a few notices to vacate were sent out before the passage of the Senate bill. Also, he said his company didn’t send out many rent increases, either.

He said landlords and property managers are still deciphering all of the effects of the bill, and he said it will have an impact throughout the state.

“The days of the sky’s the limit in Oregon are a distant memory,” he said.

Hurlburt has already noticed a chilling effect on investors, some of whom backed out of deals when they found they couldn’t raise rates up to current market levels if they bought a particular property.

“They said, ‘We’re not going to put our money in the state of Oregon,’” he said.

Jesse Sharpe, regional organizer for the Community Alliance of Tenants, said his organization rallied support for the rent-control bill because of the hardships caused by rent gouging and no-cause evictions.

“A lot of our tenants are receiving 10 percent increases every year, and they can’t bear that,” he said.

His group helps tenants negotiate their rights under the law and helps them understand what legal protections they might have.

He said it’s difficult to tell how many landlords raised rents this year because of the bill, because some typically raise rents after the first of the year.

“We’ve been seeing massive rent increases every January,” he said. “We’ve gotten a few people who have gotten eviction notices because of the bill passing.”