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Oregon's COVID-19 eviction moratorium no longer automatic

The Oregon Legislature has extended the state’s COVID-19 pandemic eviction moratorium until June 30, but this time, the protection is not automatic for tenants who can’t pay their rent.

Renters have to fill out and sign a sworn declaration of financial hardship and give it to their landlords in order to be protected from eviction.

“We want to make sure tenants understand how to initiate protection from eviction. They need to fill out the form and be honest,” said Rep. Pam Marsh, a member of the Oregon Legislature whose district includes Ashland, Talent, Phoenix, part of Medford and rural areas.

Renters qualify and can use the form if they’ve experienced financial hardships since March 16, 2020, that hurt their ability to pay rent, fees and utilities.

Financial hardships include lost income; increased medical expenses; increased child care or caregiving costs; and increased responsibilities to care for children or a person who is disabled, elderly, injured or sick.

The Oregon Law Center offers a guide to the new moratorium rules plus a copy of the financial hardship declaration form. See oregonlawcenter.org.

Oregon’s courts are also offering information plus a copy of the form atcourts.oregon.gov/forms/Documents/FED-NoticeProtectionDeclHardship.pdf.

Tenants who fill out the form will still owe back rent, which will come due July 1.

However, the Oregon Legislature set aside $50 million for rent assistance. Tenants can apply to get help paying the rent.

That fund isn’t set up yet, but tenants can call 2-1-1 or visit 211info.org for information about other forms of local rent assistance now available, plus information about the state-provided money when it becomes available.

The Oregon Legislature also set aside $150 million for a landlord relief fund for property owners whose tenants aren’t paying rent. More information will be provided once that fund is set up.

Landlords who apply for the money can get 80% of lost rent covered. They have to agree to forgo the remaining 20% and not evict the tenant.

“It’s a terrific opportunity to try and get mostly whole,” Marsh said.

When the legislature was considering the landlord relief fund, some property owners wanted the funds to cover 100% of lost rent.

The legislature decided to offer coverage for 80% to help the money stretch and aid more property owners, Marsh said.

Earlier versions of Oregon’s eviction moratorium, which started in the spring of 2020 with the onset of state COVID-19 health restrictions on businesses, didn’t offer a way for landlords to seek reimbursement.

Property owners had to rely on tenants seeking rent help.

“They need to be able to initiate the process,” Marsh said of landlords.

She said it’s important for either tenants or landlords to seek financial help if a renter can’t pay. Otherwise, the renter could face a large — and possibly insurmountable — bill once the moratorium lifts in July.

The legislature’s goal is to prevent a wave of evictions and homelessness after the moratorium, Marsh said.

Despite the economic troubles brought on by the pandemic, Marsh said members of a local work group of stakeholders are reporting most tenants are paying their rent.

But some tenants are struggling, and their financial hardships have ripple effects on businesses and individuals who rely on rental income, she said.

“Especially in our community, we have lots of landlords who are individuals who have a relatively small number of rentals,” she said.

As with earlier moratoriums, the new moratorium still allows property owners to evict tenants who violate a rental agreement or rules, or who do something dangerous, illegal or outrageous on the property, according to the Oregon Law Center.

Reach Mail Tribune reporter Vickie Aldous at valdous@rosebudmedia.com. Follow her on Twitter @VickieAldous.