FILE — Oregon renter protest

In this April 12, 2017 file photo, supporters of a bill to ban most no-cause evictions of home renters in Oregon demonstrate on the Capitol steps in Salem, Oregon. 

(The Center Square) – Thousands of Oregonian renters could be at risk of finding eviction notices on their doors by this summer. 

A February report by Portland State University’s Homeless Research & Action Collaborative estimates up to 89,000 Oregon households could be at risk of living through such a scenario which could cost the state as much as $3.3 billion in health, shelter, child welfare, and juvenile justice costs. 

Oregonians have less than six months to find out for themselves should state lawmakers allow the statewide eviction moratorium to expire on June 30 without a lifeboat for tenants and landlords.

Since it was extended in December, the state eviction moratorium includes a landlord bailout fund available to eligible candidates who forgive 20% of back rent out of pocket. 

The $150 million program, which saw backlash from landlords within days of its creation, amounts to less than half of the state's estimated $378 million in back rent, according to the Portland State University study.

Sponsored by state Rep. Wlnsvey Campos, D-Aloha, House Bill 2372 would ban no-cause evictions statewide to keep Oregonians in their homes in the pandemic.

"No one deserves to have a landlord simply say, 'get out' with no explanation," renter James Harrison said. "Simply having to move, in this day and this market, is alone enough to bring on a heart attack."

Under the bill, landlords would still retain the right to issue evictions if they wish to sell, occupy, or renovate the property with 90 days notice as laid out in the current moratorium. 

Ending no-cause evictions all together has been building traction in the Oregon Legislature since 2019 when state lawmakers considered a similar bill banning the practice. 

In the time since, state lawmakers voted to limit no-cause evictions to tenants who have lived in a housing unit for at least a year and cap rent increases to 7% plus the average inflation rate for the past twelve months.

In January, inflation rates came in at 1.4%, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, meaning landlords could raise rent no more than 8.3% that month. The law, however, applies to buildings 15 years or older.

No-cause evictions have been a major sticking point for Oregon landlords who have largely opposed the state's eviction moratorium since its inception.

Debora Imse, executive director of the Multifamily Northwest rental housing group, testified on Tuesday to the House Committee on Housing that no-cause evictions were a tool for landlords to protect tenants.

"Housing providers utilize the no-cause notice to protect other vulnerable parties that could otherwise be subject to bullying or targeted for violence, specifically those who have provided complaints against a fellow renter," Imse said. "Elderly neighbors, children, folks who are not lawfully in the country, and disabled tenants could be put in harms whey when they are forced to testify in court about how they were harmed as the landlord pursues a for cause notice."

Renters and housing advocates testifying on Tuesday did not seem to share such sentiments. Landlords, they argued, have more than enough "for cause" reasons at their disposal to evict tenants, including criminal offenses. 

Landlords, they said, need to take it upon themselves to better screen prospective tenants to prevent problems ahead of time, especially when a last-minute denial can mean life or death for desperate housing candidates.

A recent report conducted by the Oregon League of Cities found the state's housing deficit currently stands at 155,000 units to date. Last year, average rent in the state hovered around $1,000, according to data by RentCafe. In Portland, rent averaged at $1,538 or $75 higher than the national average.

"Tenants investing in housing and moving in a pandemic cannot risk potentially being forced to turn around and move yet again, putting their household at risk simply because the landlord changed their mind," Portland renter and housing advocate Marih Alyn-Claire said.

In the meantime, Oregon continues to support a number of renter aid programs.

Starting next week, Business Oregon will begin its seventh round of COVID-relief grants of up to $100,000 for small business tenants behind on outstanding lease payments. Applications open on Monday and will be accepted for a two-week stretch.

Staff Reporter

Tim Gruver is a politics and public policy reporter. He is a University of Washington alum and the recipient of the 2017 Pioneer News Award for Reporting. His work has appeared in Politico, the Kitsap Daily News, and the Northwest Asian Weekly.