Oregon lawmakers must walk a fine line in this short session. While the state’s rental housing shortage is taking a toll on tenants, some steps to correct the problem could actually make the situation worse.
The difficulties are particularly clear in the House Human Services and Housing Committee. That body is dealing with several bills aimed at easing the lot of tenants, who can be at the mercy of the landlords from whom they rent.
Clearly, the committee’s sympathies lie with the tenants. Thus, there have been proposals to require landlords to pay tenants’ relocation costs in the event of rent increases or no-cause evictions. Others would bar rent increases in the first year, require landlords to give 90 days’ notice if they plan to raise rents or evict for no cause, and require landlords to prove they aren’t retaliating if a tenant is evicted within six months of complaining about living conditions in a building.
Were all to become law — they won’t — Oregon would clearly, some lawmakers assume, become a renter’s paradise.
Make life too tough on landlords — make it difficult for them to keep up with rising costs, get rid of bad tenants (yes, there are a few) or actually make a profit after years of a recession-depressed housing market — and some will simply get out of the rental business altogether. And what that does in an era of too little, too expensive housing is simple to predict.
Rather than limit rent increases or bar evictions, lawmakers should consider something else.
Back in the not-so-old days, well-written leases protected both sides in a rental agreement. Leases have fallen out of favor, but that could be changed without dictating the provisions within them. Good leases offer both landlord and tenant protection from abuse by the other, and they help stabilize a housing market. They are a better answer to Oregon tenants’ housing problems than the Legislature dictating overly burdensome restrictions.