The state Legislature seems almost certain to pass a bill to enact a statewide rent control policy.
This week, the Senate Housing Committee, after a four-hour hearing, voted to move Senate Bill 608 to the full Senate for consideration, where it seems a sure bet to pass, considering the Democratic majority there. And the same thing is almost certain to happen in the House, considering that Speaker of the House Tina Kotek has made this issue a priority now for years.
The hearing this week wasn't without drama: Democrats on the Housing Committee refused to entertain any of a number of Republican amendments to the bill, according to Sen. Fred Girod, R-Stayton. After it became clear that none of the offered amendments would pass, Girod abruptly left the hearing room, according to an account of the hearing in The Oregonian. The only Republican left in the hearing room after Girod left was Sen. Tim Knopp of Bend, who voted "no," but he can count votes just like the rest of us.
Judging by a press release, one of Girod's main concerns is that the bill as written evokes the emergency clause, meaning it goes into effect immediately upon passage. That means, Girod said, that property owners will have no time to adjust to new regulations, and could face the potential of massive fines as a result.
Girod also said that the bill has been written with urban Oregon in mind "and does not offer alternatives for rural or frontier communities." You could be hearing that complaint a lot during the remainder of this legislative session.
But give Kotek some credit: She apparently learned from her failed 2017 attempt to eliminate no-cause evictions and to allow cities to create their own rent control policies and went to work to craft a proposal that would win over skeptics — most notably, critics in the Senate, where her proposal failed after passing the House.
Senate Bill 608 (whose sponsors notably include Senate President Peter Courtney) requires most landlords to cite a cause when evicting renters after the first year of tenacy. It also limits annual rent increases to 7 percent plus inflation throughout the state — a concession that was sufficient to persuade two statewide rental groups to remain neutral on the bill. The legislative director for the Oregon Rental Housing Association, for example, said the bill as written would likely not be "catastrophic to our livelihood." That's not exactly a rave, but it was sufficient to convince the association to stay on the sidelines.
Tenant groups aren't exactly thrilled by the bill, either, but say it offers renters at least a modicum of predictability as they plan their household budgets.
Here's the big question about this bill, though, and it's only a matter of time before we find out the answers: A raft of academic research suggests that strict rent control reduces the supply of rentals in the long run and drives rent prices up. Kotek and supporters of the bill argue that its relatively generous allowances for rent increases (many California communities with rent control limit increases to the rate of inflation) mean that the traditional criticisms about rent control won't apply here. We'll see about that, but it would be a shame if this measure, intended to protect renters, winds up putting more pressure on an already extra-tight market.
In fact, if you believe that part of the problem facing renters in Oregon is a shortage of available housing, the Legislature has an option available to it that doesn't involve throwing a big curveball at landlords: Allocate money to build affordable housing units throughout the state. As the owner of those housing units, the state (or whatever agency got tasked with managing the units) could do whatever it wanted regarding rent. That wouldn't run the risk of wreaking havoc with private landlords who depend on the cash flow from their properties for their livelihoods. (mm)