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Vindictive landlords take it out on tenants

Landlords who drastically raised rents or evicted longtime tenants without cause just before a statewide tenant-protection law took effect might have thought they were making a point about government overreach. But in fact, they merely proved why the law was needed in the first place.

That doesn’t help the tenants affected by their landlords’ vindictiveness, but at least the same fate won’t befall tenants from now on.

The Legislature last month passed the nation’s first statewide rent control law, which capped but did not prohibit rent increases, and limited but did not eliminate no-cause evictions. Not only did the bill’s authors go out of their way to take it easy on rental owners, they left in place a statewide ban on local rent-control ordinances, which could have been far more restrictive than the new state law.

That didn’t stop some landlords from taking out their frustration with the law on their tenants, doing to them what they could not do after the law took effect. Hard numbers are difficult to come by, but Mail Tribune reporter Damian Mann spoke to tenants who were evicted without cause even after three years of occupancy, and the Rogue Action Center says it has received dozens of reports of evictions or rents increasing by as much as $300. Some appeared to be in retaliation for tenants who were campaigning for the new law.

Senate Bill 608 was far more lenient than it might have been, and some tenant-rights advocates felt it didn’t go far enough.

The new law says landlords may not evict tenants without cause after the first year. Within that first year, no-cause evictions are still legal with 30 days’ notice. The new law says landlords may increase rents 7 percent per year plus the increase in the Consumer Price Index, meaning this year, the permissible increase would be more than 10 percent — hardly a burden.

The president of the Southern Oregon Rental Owners Association says he has always kept his rent increases around 5 to 10 percent, and he thinks most landlords will find the new law isn’t as bad as they fear it will be. That was our conclusion as well, given the many exemptions and great leeway allowed under the new rules:

Own four or fewer units? You’re exempt from having to pay tenants a month’s rent when you evict them so you can move into a unit or to perform a major renovation. Is your main residence on the same property as two or fewer rental units? You can still evict without cause at any time.

Do you rent units that are less than 15 years old? You may increase rents as high as you like. Is a tenant moving out on their own accord? Go ahead and re-set the rent as high as you wish. Nothing’s stopping you.

The new law was enacted without strong opposition from landlord groups, who felt the restrictions it contained were preferable to the risk of much more stringent local ordinances that are still blocked under state law.

Apparently some local landlords didn’t get the memo.