Governor Kate Brown signs rent control bill
Members of Stable Homes for Oregon Families celebrate after Oregon Gov. Kate Brown signs Senate Bill 608 into law on Feb. 28. (Photo from Stable Homes for Oregon Families.)

Gov­er­nor Kate Brown of Ore­gon signed rent con­trol leg­is­la­tion into law at the end of Feb­ru­ary, and while many in the state and around the coun­try com­mend­ed the action to pro­tect renters, oth­ers wor­ry it is sim­ply a tem­po­rary fix that will inevitably hurt the state’s econ­o­my, as well as the con­stituents it aims to protect.

Sen­ate Bill 608 is the first state law of its kind, but rent con­trol poli­cies are some­what com­mon in large Amer­i­can cities.

New York City, Wash­ing­ton, D.C., Los Ange­les and San Fran­cis­co have had some form of rent con­trol or rent sta­bi­liza­tion rules in place for decades.

Like many coastal states, Ore­gon has seen a sub­stan­tial increase in hous­ing costs in the last decade. Medi­an rent increased rough­ly twen­ty-five per­cent in four years in small­er Ore­gon cities like Eugene, Bend and Salem.

The prob­lem is being felt in south­ern Ore­gon as well, where in Tal­ent, one in three res­i­dents spends more than half their income on housing.

Near­by in Med­ford, the rental vacan­cy rate is less than two percent.

The prob­lem of increased rental costs might be most appar­ent in Port­land. The state’s met­ro­pol­i­tan hub has seen an increase of thir­ty per­cent since 2011.

Crit­ics point to Oregon’s strict land use poli­cies as one of the biggest fac­tors involved in Portland’s increas­ing­ly unaf­ford­able rental market.

In Port­land specif­i­cal­ly, zon­ing laws are in place to pre­vent urban sprawl which, in turn, pre­vents devel­op­ment in near­by loca­tions. Port­land also has “lengthy delays in per­mit­ting process­es, oner­ous impact fees, and gaudy archi­tec­tur­al design codes,” which fur­ther the issues devel­op­ers face in the area.

Demo­c­ra­t­ic majori­ties con­trol both cham­bers of the Ore­gon Leg­is­la­ture. Sen­ate Bill 608 was passed with thir­ty-five ayes and twen­ty-five nays, for the most part along par­ty lines (three Democ­rats vot­ed nay). The House roll call was as follows:

Roll Call
Sen­ate Bill 608
Relat­ing to res­i­den­tial ten­an­cies; and declar­ing an emergency.
Third Read­ing & Final Passage

Vot­ing Aye: Williamson, Alon­so Leon, Bynum, Doher­ty, Evans, Gorsek, Holvey, Live­ly, Mitchell, Pilu­so, Pow­er, Ray­field, Sanchez, Smith Warn­er, Williams, Bark­er, Clem, Fahey, Green­lick, Helm, Her­nan­dez, Keny-Guy­er, Marsh, McLain, Meek, Nathanson, Neron, Nosse, Prusak, Rear­don, Sali­nas, Schouten, Soll­man, Wilde, Speak­er Kotek

Vot­ing Nay: Bar­reto, Bon­ham, Find­ley, Hay­den, Helt, Leif, McK­e­own, McLane, Near­man, Noble, Reschke, Smith (G), Sprenger, Wal­lan, Zika, Wil­son, Boles, Boshart Davis, Drazan, Gomberg, Lewis, Post, Smith (DB), Stark, Witt

The Sen­ate approved the bill on Feb­ru­ary 12th; the roll call was as follows:

Roll Call
Sen­ate Bill 608
Relat­ing to res­i­den­tial ten­an­cies; and declar­ing an emergency.
Third Read­ing & Final Passage

Vot­ing Aye: Sen­a­tors Bey­er, Court­ney, Bur­dick, Fagan, Gelser, Gold­en, Hass, Monnes Ander­son, Prozan­s­ki, Robian, Tay­lor, Dem­brow, Fred­er­ick, Man­ning Jr., Riley, Stein­er Hay­ward, Wagner

Vot­ing Nay: Sen­a­tors Baertschiger Jr, Bentz, Boquist, Girod, Hansell, Heard, John­son, Knopp, Linthicum, Thatch­er, Winters

Excused: Sen­a­tors Olsen, Thomsen

SB 608 also declared this aspect of the hous­ing cri­sis an emer­gency, so the fol­low­ing poli­cies were imme­di­ate­ly put into effect:

  • Pro­hibits land­lord from ter­mi­nat­ing month-to-month ten­an­cy with­out cause after twelve months of occupancy.
  • Pro­vides excep­tion for cer­tain ten­an­cies on build­ing or lot used by land­lord as residence
  • Allows land­lord to ter­mi­nate ten­an­cy with nine­ty days’ writ­ten notice and pay­ment of one month’s rent under cer­tain conditions
  • Exempts land­lord man­ag­ing four or few­er units from pay­ment of one month’s rent
  • Pro­vides that fixed term ten­an­cy becomes month-to-month ten­an­cy upon end­ing date if not renewed or terminated
  • Allows land­lord to not renew fixed term ten­an­cy if ten­ant receives three lease vio­la­tion warn­ings with­in twelve months dur­ing term and land­lord gives nine­ty days’ notice
  • Lim­its rent increas­es for res­i­den­tial ten­an­cies to one per year
  • Lim­its max­i­mum annu­al rent increase to sev­en per­cent above annu­al change in con­sumer price index
  • Requires Ore­gon Depart­ment of Admin­is­tra­tive Ser­vices to pub­lish max­i­mum annu­al rent increase percentage

The leg­is­la­tion keeps in place the state’s pol­i­cy of pre­vent­ing cities from imple­ment­ing their own more restric­tive rent con­trol policies.

After the bill was sent on to Gov­er­nor Brown’s desk, its chief spon­sors cel­e­brat­ed. “This ground­break­ing ten­ant pro­tec­tion bill will make a real dif­fer­ence for Ore­gon renters,” said Rep­re­sen­ta­tive Tina Kotek.

“Thank you to the advo­cates who made their voic­es heard and pushed our state to address the hous­ing cri­sis. Today was one big step forward.”

U.S. Sen­a­tor and pres­i­den­tial hope­ful Kamala Har­ris also cel­e­brat­ed the bill, retweet­ing a video of Brown sign­ing it into law and say­ing, “No one should ever have to choose between pay­ing their rent each month or feed­ing their children.”

Oppo­nents warn that the law will not fix the under­ly­ing issues and could actu­al­ly make the sit­u­a­tion worse for vul­ner­a­ble families.

Research by the Brook­ings Insti­tute sug­gests that Ore­gon (and the rest of the coun­try) is actu­al­ly grap­pling with two hous­ing afford­abil­i­ty problems.

Accord­ing to the New York Times, not all prop­er­ty own­ers are expect­ing cat­a­stroph­ic results from the new leg­is­la­tion and some see it as a move in the right direc­tion when tack­ling the state’s hous­ing crisis.

“I do not believe it will be cat­a­stroph­ic to our liveli­hood,” said Jim Straub, leg­isla­tive direc­tor of the Ore­gon Rental Hous­ing Association.

Gov­er­nor Kate Brown rec­om­mend­ed that law­mak­ers and the Ore­gon Hous­ing and Com­mu­ni­ty Ser­vices Depart­ment should report back on the bill’s effects dur­ing the 2021 leg­isla­tive ses­sion. Brown also encour­aged the Leg­is­la­ture to approve $400 mil­lion in bud­get requests for afford­able hous­ing devel­op­ment, rental assur­ance and home­less­ness prevention.

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