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Oregon Passes 1st-In-Nation Statewide Rent Control

Oregon will soon be the first in the nation with statewide rent control.

A measure that caps how much landlords can raise the rent and makes it harder for them to evict tenants without a reason sailed through the House on Tuesday with a 35-25 vote. It now heads to Gov. Kate Brown’s desk. Brown has said she will sign the legislation.

Democrats spoke of constituents who were “living on the edge, one rent spike away from being homeless.”

Rep. Mark Meek, D-Gladstone, said housing displacement was a devastating reality for too many Oregonians.

“Oregon is facing a statewide housing crisis,” Meek said. “Many landlords do right by their tenants but unreasonable rent increases and no-cause evictions are destabilizing our most vulnerable families.”

Democrats, who control both chambers of the Legislature and the executive branch, made it clear the bill was a priority as it moved at breakneck speed through both chambers. It takes effect as soon as the governor signs the bill.

Rep. Alissa Keny-Guyer, D-Portland, who chairs the housing committee, pushed back on Republican assertions that the bill arrived fully baked at the Capitol.

The Legislature has tried to pass tenant protections for several sessions, she said.

“In an ideal world, I wish went further and feel this isn’t enough,” she said, but added it’s a “fair, reasonable, compromise that will be manageable for the majority of landlords.”

The bill prohibits landlords across the state from raising rents more than 7 percent per year, plus the annual change in the consumer price index. It carves out an exemption for rental properties that are less than 15 years old.

The measure would also prevent a landlord’s ability to evict tenants without a reason after they have lived in the building for a year. As long as landlords cite a reason — such as violating the lease agreement or not paying rent — they could still remove tenants from their properties.

There are other carveouts in the bill that allow landlords to evict tenants, such as a need to upgrade their building or plans to demolish it. Landlords could also evict a tenant if a family member is moving in the unit under certain circumstances, but they would need to give tenants 90 days notice.

If a landlord were to violate the terms, they could be on the hook to pay the tenant up to 3 months rent and damages.

Republicans argued the bill was Portland-centric. The issues in their cities and towns is a lack of supply, they said. Conservative lawmakers warned of rural areas of the state being decimated by the measure.

In Roseburg, there’s been no new construction from a private developer since 2008, said Republican Rep. Gary Leif.

“We have a housing crisis across the state, but it can’t be fixed with one-size-fits-all solution,” he said, adding later, “We do not need, do not want and believe this legislation will harm the citizens of southern Oregon.”

Rep. Jack Zika, a Republican who represents Redmond in the growing area of central Oregon, said he pressed proponents for more data on how this bill could affect rural areas.

He was told there was no data.

“Why would we impose this on people if we don’t know the outcome?” he said.  “This could be drastic and harm our rural areas.”

Republicans, who largely represent the rural areas of the state, argued the solution should be incentivizing builders and the market to build more affordable housing.

House Republican Leader Carl Wilson, of Grants Pass, said lawmakers from both urban and rural areas agree there is a housing crisis in the state.

But they don't agree on the solution.   [Copyright 2019 Oregon Public Broadcasting]

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