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The Oregon State Capitol in Salem. 

Mark Ylen

Compromises helped pave the way for legislative action this session on bills regarding workplace scheduling and pay equity.

But another big piece of this year's Democratic agenda — strengthening protections for renters — fell by the wayside in the final days of the session. It was a stinging defeat for Speaker of the House Tina Kotek, who had made the measure a priority. 

But Kotek had to battle just to get the measure out of the House, where it passed by a narrow 31-27 margin. Two House Democrats voted against it, and so did every Republican.

And the bill (House Bill 2004) never had a chance in the Senate, where it didn't even come to a vote. In fact, a Senate committee stripped away some of the bill's most controversial provisions, notably a section that would have allowed cities or counties to impose their own rent-control ordinances.

Even with that provision removed, the bill still had zero support from Senate Republicans, and two Senate Democrats (Rod Monroe of Portland and Betsy Johnson of Scappoose) announced their opposition. The bill didn't make it out of a Senate committee, and the reportedly icy relations between Kotek and Courtney probably didn't help its prospects.

Kotek vowed to give the issue another shot in another session. "Tenants needed those protections," she told The Oregonian. "We'll be back on that issue."

Before she does that, though, she should reflect on the process through which other contentious issues managed to survive the 2017 session. The workplace scheduling bill offers an excellent example: Going into the session, businesses were worried enough about the bill that they walked away from the work group that was laboring on the issue; they thought there was no chance that their concerns would be heard.

But the final bill, a compromise measure, eased enough of those concerns that it passed both chambers easily.

The groundwork for the successful transportation bill was laid by two years of work by a bipartisan committee that traveled throughout the state; when the bill hit bumps in the Legislature, that groundwork proved essential in forging the foundation of the compromises that kept it alive. A similar effort might yield a better ending for a tenants' protection bill.

We are unconvinced of the need for rent control measures; we believe those would have the effect of discouraging the construction of affordable housing units, so badly needed throughout the state.

But we also believe that renters could benefit from expanded protection against no-cause evictions. One essential strategy to combat homelessness is to keep people from losing their homes in their first place, and a tenant who is evicted for whatever reason often finds it difficult to find another apartment. 

In general, the version of House Bill 2004 that was before the Senate would allow landlords to evict tenants for no cause in the first year with 30 days' notice. After that, landlords could evict tenants only for cause. The measure also would have barred landlords from increasing rents more than once in a 12-month period for month-to-month tenancies. 

The bill before the Senate allowed good-faith exceptions that would have included renovations or repairs that would render the unit unfit to occupy, cases in which the unit was to converted to nonresidential use and cases in which the unit was intended to be the primary residence for landlords or their immediate families.

Much of that struck us as reasonable, but the bill obviously triggered too much heartburn among opponents. But surely there is opportunity to find enough common ground here to protect both tenants and landlords. 

Matthew Desmond's powerful (and remarkably even-handed) book "Evicted" makes a compelling case that a stable residence is an essential part of helping people out of poverty. Working toward a compromise on no-cause evictions could benefit not just tenants and landlords but all Oregonians. (mm)


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