Oregon Senate Bill 970, a committee bill with no individual sponsor, makes changes in the ways some landlords and tenants deal with each other. Most of the bill deals with landlords’ obligations when a manufactured home or floating homeowner wants to sell.
One section would have a broader impact. The bill also would bar landlords from taking into consideration a prospective tenant’s criminal record regarding use or possession of marijuana. The language of the bill is unclear about whether felony convictions for possession could be considered. Meanwhile, the exclusion is a well-meant but misguided change that should be eliminated from the bill.
Marijuana is legal in Oregon, to be sure. Voters approved legalization of recreational weed in 2014, and the following July possession and use of marijuana became legal, though the rules governing sales of recreational weed would take longer to put in place.
As part of that change, lawmakers gave adults who had convictions for use or for possession of relatively small amounts of marijuana the right to have their criminal records expunged of those convictions.
Apparently, not many Oregonians have taken advantage of that right. According to an article in the Huffington Post, the Drug Policy Alliance says that more than 78,000 Oregonians are eligible for expungement, though as of 2017, only about 1,200 had actually asked to have records changed. Expungement is not free, but it can be done without the aid of a lawyer, according to the Oregon Judicial Branch website.
That’s just what those who have eligible convictions should do, if they do not want landlords, prospective employers or anyone else to know that at one time, at least, they broke Oregon criminal laws.
That’s a better approach than requiring landlords to ignore criminal records that remain on the books. Like it or not, those records make clear that individuals made a decision to break state law, and got caught doing so. Their actions may hint at attitudes about the law in general, and as such, they’re fair game for landlords.