If you are a renter, your landlord can evict you and legally not have to provide you with a reason, in a process called a no-cause eviction. But Eugene renters could receive some assistance in the future when they experience a no-cause eviction or rent hike if the City Council moves forward with renter protections.
Among other proposals, the Eugene City Council is considering a requirement that landlords provide relocation assistance whenever they use a no-cause eviction. Eugene would follow Portland and Berkeley if the ordinance is enacted, but landlords are fighting it, saying it could make their businesses difficult to run in town. Renter advocates say the ordinance could keep the recently evicted from becoming homeless.
“No one wants to punish landlords or drive them out of the market,” says Ryan Moore, who works as Springfield-Eugene Tenant Association’s engagement and outreach coordinator, but says he isn’t speaking on the behalf of the housing nonprofit. “We have the luxury of not being pioneers on almost any of these protections being considered.”
At a Nov. 22 work session last year, the City Council discussed renter protections, including banning application and screening fees, limiting how much a landlord can charge for a security deposit and having landlords pay a rental relocation fund when they no-cause evict a tenant. The council voted unanimously to direct staffers to present a feasibility study on enacting those renter protection ordinances.
Moore says about 52 percent of Eugene’s population are renters. Every month, the nonprofit SETA publishes a report from its hotline. According to monthly reports from SETA from November to January, there have been reports of 54 no-cause evictions and 77 just-cause evictions.
In 2020, the Oregon Legislature limited the use of no-cause evictions when it passed Senate Bill 608. The law prohibits landlords from evicting tenants after one year of residence unless the property owner plans on demolishing, selling, or renovating in a way that makes living there unsafe or if the property owners or their family plans to move in.
SETA heard from an African American tenant who said he received a no-cause eviction notice because the landlord wanted to renovate the kitchen pantry, Moore says. “Under Oregon law, it has to be substantial repairs or renovations,” he adds.
SB 608 also established a statewide rent control, capping a yearly rent increase to below seven percent plus the consumer price index. In September 2021, the Oregon Department of Administrative Services announced that rent increases during 2022 cannot surpass 9.9 percent.
Moore says advocates are also asking for the rental relocation assistance program to cover an instance of a rent increase.
Moving to a rental property as a tenant requires a lot of money. Moore says the average rent in Eugene is about $1,200 a month. To move in, renters have to pay a security deposit, which is typically about one month’s rent. Add in the first and last month’s rent, and an average move-in cost could be around $3,600, he says.
Kathryn Dunn is a real estate agent and owns 31 units in Eugene-Springfield, most of which are single-family units. She also represents the Eugene Rental Owners, an informal organization of 162 landlords in the area. She says a rental relocation assistance program paid for by the landlord would take away their last line of defense.
“I haven’t run into someone who’s using this in a wrong way,” Dunn says. “I’m not saying there aren’t bad landlords — I’m sure there are like any industry. Why would they evict someone when the whole goal is to keep rent coming in?”
Dunn says she’s never evicted a tenant before, but there are reasons why a landlord would use a no-cause eviction. A just-cause eviction is used when a tenant doesn’t pay rent or causes damage to the property, but that’s a process that requires the courts to step in, she says.
Rental relocation assistance has been adopted in other cities, and the Legislature has limited a landlord’s use of no-cause evictions.
In 2017, Portland enacted a rental relocation assistance program. According to the ordinance, if a landlord uses a no-cause eviction or increases rent by 10 percent over a 12-month period, the landlord has to pay the renter $2,900 for a studio or single room unit, $3,300 for a one-bedroom unit, $4,200 for a two-bedroom unit and $4,500 for a three-bedroom unit or more.
Portland landlords sued the city, citing it had illegally violated state law on local rent control. The lawsuit went to the Oregon Supreme Court, which issued a January 2019 ruling in favor of the city.
Landlords who own properties in Eugene will still be able to use a no-cause eviction if a rental relocation assistance program passes the council. But they would have to pay the renter money to find housing elsewhere.
Dunn says the council is exploring this policy without facts or data — only unfounded complaints. She says it could result in Eugene’s landlords selling their properties, which would likely go to homeowners who’ll live in it, leading to a loss of rental housing units.
Moore says he doesn’t think what council is considering will lead to a loss of rental housing units. “It’s profitable to be a landlord and expensive to be a renter,” he says. “This is about rebalancing fairness. It’s about consumer protection.”
Eugene City Councilor Matt Keating says it’s in the wheelhouse of the city to enact such renter protections since it’s been passed in other cities. Keating is the only renter on the council and says the city should be doing everything it can to help renters but also find ways to reward good landlords. Keating says the council could vote on protecting Eugene renters before June.
Voting on renter protections is more than just consumer rights, Moore says. It’s also a way to address homelessness.
“The goal of this is to prevent people from falling into homelessness, where it’s more likely they’ll be trapped in a cycle of poverty, develop substance abuse and maybe mental health challenges,” Moore says. “I would just call it homelessness prevention.”
For more information on SETA, visit SpringfieldEugeneTenantAssociation.com. To learn more about the Eugene Rental Owners, find the group on Facebook.