With a week to go until Oregon’s eviction moratorium expires, Multnomah County commissioners unanimously voted to extend protections for struggling renters across the county.
Multnomah County first issued a local moratorium in mid-March to keep tenants who had lost their wages due to COVID-19 in their homes and prevent a spike in homelessness during a public health crisis. The rule banned landlords from evicting people without giving a substantive reason why — known as a no-cause eviction — or because they couldn’t pay rent. The county later suspended enforcement of the local moratorium in favor of the state’s version.
But with the state’s moratorium set to expire at the end of the month and the country still in the throes of the pandemic, commissioners have decided to stretch both the county’s state of emergency and the eviction moratorium until Jan. 8. The extensions passed 5-0.
The moratorium, developed at the direction of Multnomah County Chair Deborah Kafoury, offers identical protections to the state’s restrictions. Renters won’t need to finish paying their back rent until six months after the county’s state of emergency ends. During this half-year grace period, renters are expected to keep paying the new rent that comes due, as well as make up for the missed payments. Tenants do not need to prove they couldn’t pay in order to be protected under the moratorium.
And there are penalties for landlords who evict renters in violation of the moratorium: a tenant can get injunctive relief and receive a dollar amount equivalent to up to three months worth of their rent.
In remarks before the vote, each commissioner said they were concerned about how landlords, particularly smaller ones, were faring during the pandemic, with looming mortgages to pay and streams of rent income likely dwindling. They framed the moratorium as a necessary step to stave off a tidal wave of evictions. But to help landlords, they said, they’d need the federal government to provide money for rent assistance.
"We’re avoiding mass evictions at this moment, but we really need the federal government to pass the HEROES Act or some other legislation in a similar vein to help not only renters but also landlords of all these months of unpaid rent,” Kafoury said, referencing the $3 trillion pandemic relief package the U.S. House of Representatives passed in May.
Kafoury warned that these moratoriums are merely a stopgap measure to prevent evictions. Once they end, renters will be expected to make good on all their back rent, despite months of lost wages and persistent unemployment related to the pandemic. According to estimates by the mayor’s office, Portlanders fell behind on rent by somewhere between $120 million and $125 million in the last six months.
Kafoury said she expects the state to extend its eviction moratorium when the legislature meets in November. For residents outside Multnomah County who don’t have a local moratorium, this means they will be protected solely by the federal moratorium until the state takes the issue back up.
Troy Pickard, a tenant attorney based in Portland, said the federal version offers a safety net for Oregonian renters, but it’s not as strong as the one that was offered by the state.
“I think a lot of activists and legislators have said, ‘OK, we’ve got this now until the end of the year and that sounds good enough to us,’” Pickard said. But, he notes, unlike the state’s moratorium, the federal version requires tenants to fill out a form and give it to their landlord to trigger the protections. Individual renters must expect to make under $99,000 this year and sign a statement that they are unable to pay rent “due to substantial loss of household income, loss of compensable hours of work or wages, lay-offs, or extraordinary out-of-pocket medical expenses,” among other declarations.
With Thursday’s vote, renters in Multnomah County won’t need to worry about those federal restrictions.
Nor will Portland renters: The city of Portland is expected to adopt an identical moratorium next week.