Oregon State House of Representatives

Oregon State House of Representatives

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Oregon tenants who’ve missed rent payments during the COVID-19 pandemic will have eight additional months to pay it back without consequences, under a bill Oregon lawmakers have now sent to Gov. Kate Brown.

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The state House of Representatives on Tuesday approved Senate Bill 282, one of the signature renter relief proposals in a session where housing has become a key issue.

A central component of the bill extends the time renters have to pay back rent they’ve missed since April 2020. Currently, the state’s moratorium on evictions is slated to end at the end of June, and tenants must pay all back rent by July 1, along with resuming regular monthly rental payments.

Under SB 282, tenants must still keep current with new rental payments as of July 1 to avoid eviction. But they will have through February 2022 to pay any back rent still owed when the eviction moratorium ends.

Proponents of the idea say it reflects a reality in Oregon: The state has steered hundreds of millions of dollars toward helping tenants meet rent shortfalls caused by COVID-19, and is expecting even more federal aid that can be used for the purpose.

But much of that money has yet to be disbursed, meaning many renters are still in the hole. Nearly 17% of Oregon renters surveyed by the U.S. Census Bureau in early March were not currently caught up on rent payments.

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SB 282 does more than extend the grace period for back rent. It ensures that landlords cannot use evictions during the pandemic to deny a rental applicant, and prevents landlords from reporting missed rent to a credit agency. It temporarily bars landlords from enforcing rental occupancy limits that are more strict than current law to help people without housing stay with friends or loved ones. And it extends heightened penalties on landlords for retaliatory conduct through February.

“Taken as a whole, Senate Bill 282 is a reasonable compromise bill that sets the stage for a more equitable recovery,” said state Rep. Julie Fahey, D-Eugene, who carried the bill on the House floor and noted it was amended with input from rental housing groups.

Another supporter, state Rep. WLnsvey Campos, D-Aloha, said not passing the bill would “cause harm to our communities.”

“Losing your housing is an extremely traumatic experience,” Campos said. “I ask that we set aside the myth that the majority of renters aren’t doing everything they can to pay their rent and focus instead on supporting Oregon’s tenants and landlords by passing this bill.”

But the bill was opposed by the vast majority of House Republicans, who said it would create more difficulties for rental property owners. State Rep. Jack Zika, R-Redmond, spoke favorably about SB 282′s aims but worried that provisions blocking landlords from taking pandemic-era evictions into account could expose them to dangerous tenants. Zika attempted to send the bill back to committee in order to address his concerns, but the motion failed.

“No one wants people to be evicted,” said Zika, who sits on the House Housing Committee, which considered the bill. “There were just some issues with the landlords.”

Another Republican lawmaker, Rep. Kim Wallan of Medford, called SB 282 “the reduction of rental supply bill,” predicting it would spur more landlords to conclude owning rental property had become too burdensome.

Many rental property owners have supported another concept that would grant them tax credits equal to their foregone rent.

SB 282 wound up passing on a near party-line vote of 39-17, with three Republicans joining Democrats in support: Reps. Ron Noble of McMinnville, Greg Smith of Heppner, and Gary Leif of Roseburg.

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