Governor Kotek recently signed into law HB 2001 which modifies the rights and obligations of landlords and tenants in Oregon. The bill expands the protections afforded to tenants under the Oregon Residential Landlord Tenant Act (ORLTA).
First, the bill allows for a tenant to pay any past-due rent to a landlord at any time during an eviction case for non-payment of rent in order to dismiss the case. This is basically a redemption right for the tenant. If it is the day before an eviction trial, the tenant can tender past due rent to the landlord and the case will be dismissed. If this happens, the tenant will not be allowed to recover their attorney fees or costs and the landlord can recover its filing fees. Basically, a dismissal after a tenant tenders past-due rent means neither party will be considered the prevailing party for the purpose of attorney fees and costs under ORS 90.225. This gives Oregon tenants extra time, if they fell behind on rent for whatever reason, to get back on track and avoid being saddled with an eviction conviction on their record.
Second, the Bill extends the time periods for the right to cure a past-due rent under ORS 90.394. 90.394 is modified to 10 days or 13 days for the right to cure unpaid rent before an eviction can be filed. Previously, a landlord could issue a 72-hour notice of unpaid rent on the eighth day of the rental period or a 144-hour notice on the fifth day of the rental period. Both are functionally identical in that they require the tenant to cure the unpaid rent by the eleventh day of the rental period. But now, the landlord can give 10 days’ notice on the eighth day of the rental period or 13 days’ notice on the fifth day of the rental period. So, the tenant can cure unpaid rent by the 19th day of the rental period. This gives a tenant who falls behind on rent an additional eight days to pay the rent without the landlord being able to file an eviction case.
Third, the Bill imposes additional inquiry requirements by the court prior to entering a default judgement against a tenant who declined to appear at an eviction hearing first appearance. Previously, if a tenant did not appear at the initial hearing in an eviction case, the landlord was automatically granted a default judgment for possession. No questions asked. But under the new standard, the court is required to make an independent finding that the complaint complies with certain procedural and technical requirements imposed by law. These technical and procedural requirements are frequently some of the most effective defenses a tenant has to eviction, but without a lawyer to identify and explain them, very few tenants would recognize they have such a defense. In addition, the landlord is required to submit an affidavit swearing under oath that the tenant is still in possession of the premises prior to obtaining a default.
Finally, the Bill sets up a system for the court to automatically set aside old eviction convictions. The court is required to annually conduct an internal, independent inquiry as to what eviction judgements have been satisfied and seal those records. Qualifying judgments are those where (1) any money award has expired or been satisfied or discharged, (2) at least five years have passed from the date of judgement or the judgement was by stipulation of the parties and twelve months have passed from the date of judgement. If an eviction is set aside, any prospective tenant when asked the question, “have you ever had an eviction entered against you?” can truthfully and legally answer, “no.” Prior evictions are one of the greatest barriers to low-income tenants procuring secure housing. And most renters are not even aware of the option to expunge an eviction record.
This new Bill demonstrates a continued movement to expand tenant rights in Oregon and address the obvious and drastic imbalance of power between landlords and tenants. The Bill is only one step towards true housing equality, but at least it is in the right direction.