By Emily Rena-Dozier
The Oregon Supreme Court released an opinion on July 28, 2022, that established important due process protections for tenants facing eviction for nonpayment of rent. In Hickey v. Scott, 370 Or 97 (2022), Justice Nelson wrote for a unanimous Court, holding that if a landlord issues a termination notice for nonpayment that demands more rent than is factually due, the notice is invalid and any eviction proceeding based on such a notice must be dismissed. The Supreme Court reversed the Court of Appeals’ decision to the contrary, explaining that the statutes regulating tenancy terminations in the Oregon Residential Landlord Tenant act “require precise and accurate information so that the tenant does not have to guess as to the exact nature of the breach and can be prepared to defend against it. * * * A notice that fails to meet those requirements—that is, fails to provide the precise and accurate information required—fails to give tenants that notice and, as a result, renders the notice invalid.” 370 Or at 111-12.
This case arose from an eviction proceeding where a landlord issued a termination notice that failed to account for payments made by the tenants, and instead demanded payment of more than tenants owed. Despite finding that landlord’s termination notice demanded more money to cure the nonpayment than tenants in fact owed, the trial court found for landlord, on the basis that tenants did owe some amount of rent. The Court of Appeals affirmed, holding that a termination notice for nonpayment need only state an amount that landlord claimed to be due, not the amount that tenants actually owed. In reversing the decision of the Court of Appeals, the Supreme Court emphasized that, given the power imbalance between landlords and tenants, holding landlords to the strict letter of the notice requirements was necessary to provide tenants with the necessary information to respond to allegations of a breach of the rental agreement and, if necessary, defend against those allegations in court.
Because approximately 85% of all residential evictions are based on nonpayment of rent, this decision will affect thousands of Oregon tenants each year. Oregon landlords and tenants should be on notice that a termination notice that overstates the amount of rent due will result in dismissal of eviction actions.