By: Cliff Conner, Southern Oregon ROA Mentor
June 30, 2020
The Governor signed HB 4213 and it is now law.
Before I talk about HB 4213 and whether it is a good or bad bill, let me go back to June of 2017. HB 2004 died in the Oregon Senate. Why? The Oregon Senate had a different makeup than the Senate of today, including the House. HB 2004 died due to a massive response from the landlord community and the Senate did not have the votes to pass the bill. Peter Courtney, President of the Senate, would not bring a bill to the floor for a vote if he did not have the votes to pass it. There were at least two Democrats who would vote no on the bill. One of the Democrat senators lost in the next primary against another Democrat who moved into his district on the expressed purpose of his stance on HB 2004. The senator who lost in the primary is a landlord and they knew HB 2004 was a draconian bill.
Fast forward to the fall of 2018 after the election, both the Oregon senate and house had Democrat super majorities now. There were several Democrats that were running on the platform of a new rent control bill. The Speaker of the House, Tina Kotek, contacted our Legislative Director, Jim Straub, and asked if he would work with her on a preliminary draft bill of what was to become SB 608. Jim worked with her to try to mitigate the impact of the draft bill so as not to impact landlords which could have happened with the draft bill.
I am not saying that SB 608 is a good bill. It is a bill that has had an impact on both landlords and tenants alike. Speaker Kotek stated to Jim Straub that there would not be any landlord/tenant bill in the short session of 2020. She stated that she wanted to see how SB 608 would work and would come back to a landlord/tenant bill in 2021.
It is important to note that when there is a super majority by one party in the senate, the house and the governor’s seat, it is very difficult to overcome when negotiating on a landlord/ tenant bill. Also important to note, one of the main issues that is near and dear to the Speaker of the House is housing.
It is now 2020 the short session ended with a walkout by the Republicans. Then the COVID-19 pandemic hit. The Governor issued her first of many executive orders (EO) dealing with the pandemic which was EO 20-03.
Shawn Miller, ORHA’s lobbyist, had heard several weeks before the first special session that there was a landlord/tenant bill that would affect landlords. There were other groups and lobbyist who tried to intervene and modify the bill to no avail. Jim was asked to talk to the Speaker personally, which he did, and a good conversation transpired. Jim asked for a copy of the Legislative Committee (LC) draft bill and the Speaker agreed to give him a copy that was being worked on. At that point in time, the LC draft bill was crafted and there was no way to kill the bill, so Jim negotiated the best possible position for landlords.
There are three ways to deal with a bill, pass a bill, kill it, or compromise. The way to compromise on a bill is through amendments to the bill. HB 4213 had 14 amendments in three days. Considering there was no way to kill it, a lot of compromising took place.
The tenant groups and tenants at large were pushing for a rent freeze and rent forgiveness. These two issues did not make it into the bill, but they will come up again next session (2021) and hopefully we will be able keep these two issues at bay as it would violate contract law.
Leading up to the first special session the governor had indicated that she was going to extend EO 20-13, the eviction moratorium, in one way or another and maybe add more restrictive language to it to the detriment of landlords. She indicated to Senator Ginny Burdock that if a bill was passed in the special session with some protection to tenants, she would not extend EO 20-13. Senator Burdock stated this in a hearing on HB 4213.
On 06/30/2020 Governor Kate Brown signed EO 20-30, which extends EO 20-03’s emergency order and the COVID -19 state of emergency. True to her word she rescinded EO 20-13, the eviction moratorium, in EO 20-30.
As to House Bill 4213, ORHA was able to work five important pieces into the bill.
- There is an end date to the emergency period, 09/30/2020, and a process going forward on the nonpayment balance during the emergency period, ending on 03/30/2021. At the end of the emergency period the full force of ORS chapter 90 is back, except for the grace period.
- The no cause termination in the first year of tenancy is extended to 30 days past the end of the emergency period. This is for those tenancies which the first year expired during the emergency period 04/01/2020 to 09/30/2020.
- There is a grace period for paying back the nonpayment balance. There is a penalty of 50% of one month’s rent if tenant does not respond to a request for repayment of the nonpayment balance.
The statute of limitations on terminations where a landlord could not terminate a rental agreement during the emergency period and the upcoming grace period has a toll on the statute of limitations.
- “Toll” means that the running of the clock for the one year of the statute of limitations is stayed during that time period. The end date is 03/31/2021.
- 90.427 (5) (b) was excluded from the moratorium. This is where a landlord sells a rental unit and the buyer moves in. This provision was stated during the hearings and on the floor for the vote that was carried by Rep Fehay.
Is this a bad bill or a good bill? That will be in the eye of the beholder. To some landlords who have not collected rent during this period and extending out to 09/30/2020 it is a bad bill.
To some tenants that think there is no rent forgiveness or prohibition on rent increases in the bill, it is a bad bill. To some landlords and tenants who recognize that there is now a process for the collection and payment of the nonpayment balance, it is a fair to good bill. There is always going to be something in the bill that anyone can point to and say it is bad or good. I say it is a compromise. The reason I say that is in order to kill a bill, you need the votes and or political capital to do so. The landlords do not have the votes but we, (ORHA) have some political capitol with the Speaker of the house and we have established mutual trust at this point.
There is a time and place to march to the Capitol with pitchforks and torches but this is not the time to do so. If this bill did not pass, landlords would be at the mercy of the Governor and her EO’s that could be extended to who knows when. I think it is better to have a law on the books with an end date and a process to work through.