Opinion: Adding tenant protections for housing stability

Members and supporters of Portland Tenants United protest outside the Oregon State Capitol in Salem in 2017. Sarah Silbiger/Staff (

By Tina Kotek and Peter Courtney

Kotek, a Portland Democrat, is speaker of the Oregon House. Courtney, a Salem Democrat, is president of the Oregon Senate.

Every Oregonian, every human being, needs a place to call home. Shelter is a basic need. Safe, stable housing for everyone is the foundation of a safe, stable community.

Unfortunately, we hear stories everyday about extreme rent spikes and sudden evictions across Oregon that are robbing people of their basic human right to shelter.

In 2017, there were over 152,000 Oregon renters who paid more than half of their income on their housing, according to the American Community Survey. That’s one in four renters. Too many renters are just one unexpected financial crisis away from becoming homeless. We know from newspapers and social service providers that Oregonians in every corner of the state have experienced unbearable rent increases and unfair evictions.

The Legislature must confront this crisis head on. We must smooth the way for more construction. We must increase emergency housing assistance. We must publicly finance more affordable housing across Oregon.

We believe all solutions should be on the table if our state is to get ahead of the housing crisis.

One of those solutions is Senate Bill 608. The rental market needs more predictability and fairness. Senate Bill 608 seeks to address two main issues that have wreaked havoc on too many renters: No-cause evictions and sudden extreme rent increases.

Today, our laws allow many renters to be evicted with as little as 30-days’ notice for no reason and for renters to receive unlimited rent increases.

Senate Bill 608 is an innovative, hybrid solution combining common sense tenant protections with reasonable accommodations for landlords and developers. It prohibits no-cause evictions after 12-months of a tenancy. The bill also protects people by preventing extreme rent increases.

This bill is not the “rent control” of yesteryear. Studies show modern rent stabilization policies prevent displacement without deterring new construction or negatively impacting building maintenance. For those who are recycling old opposition arguments about obsolete rent control policies to maintain the status quo, we call you out for relying on studies that don’t apply to the solution we are proposing.

Landlords would still be able to evict tenants for just causes, like non-payment of rent, violation of rental agreements, or sale of the property. They would also be able to raise rent on individual tenants once a year at a reasonable amount and reset the rent for new tenancies. Senate Bill 608 also exempts new construction for a period of 15 years to ensure that new supply is not discouraged. This innovative proposal protects renters without being unreasonably burdensome for landlords or developers.

This is a fair proposal that we know will make a real difference. This is a significant step forward. It is one part of a broad range of solutions we need to address this statewide crisis we have been mired in since the Great Recession.

We have the chance to create a fairer system. We can prevent the extreme rent spikes and no-cause evictions that destabilize our neighbors, disrupt our communities, and increase homelessness.

The housing crisis impacts every community. Rent increases as high as 100 percent, mass evictions, and unfair displacement occur in places as diverse as Salem, Prineville, Medford, and Beaverton. While most landlords do right by their tenants, the evidence is clear that unreasonable rent increases and no-cause evictions are harming families and communities.

Kids cannot stay focused and learn in school when they are worried about where their family will sleep at night. Parents can’t excel at work when they are worried about where they will move next. Seniors living on a fixed income are forced to choose between paying rent and medicine and food if their rent increases significantly. We all need a basic foundation of stability.

Oregon can become the first state to take such bold action. We can show the rest of the country what we value: all Oregonians having a safe and stable place to call home.

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