Four years after Oregon passed the nation’s first statewide rent control law, state legislators are considering new limits as tenants throughout the state continue receiving notices that they’ll owe hundreds or thousands more in rent each year.
The state’s 2019 law limited rent increases on many buildings to no more than 7% plus inflation. High inflation last year meant landlords could hike rent by 14.6% in 2023, and lawmakers are seeking a fix to prevent future double-digit rent increases.
As introduced, Senate Bill 611 would cap rent increases at no more than 8% or 3% plus inflation, whichever is less. An amendment the Senate Committee on Housing and Development will consider Monday would change that to the lesser of 10% or 5% plus inflation.
The bill has touched a nerve: Nearly 1,500 have submitted written testimony.
This issue is personal for the bill’s sponsor, Sen. Wlnsvey Campos, an Aloha Democrat and the youngest senator in Oregon history. She told the committee during a hearing last week that she had to stop paying for health insurance to afford her rent after a rent increase a few years ago. Campos went on to work as a case manager and advocate for Washington County families before her election.
“When I tell that story, I talk about how lucky I felt that I had that piece in my budget to cut,” she said. “But a lot of folks don’t even have that health care to cut out of their budget.”
One of those tenants, Lucy Briseno of Independence, told the committee that the $210 monthly rent increase she received this year means rent now takes up more than an entire bimonthly paycheck. Briseno, a single mother of four, is cutting back on expenses including gas and groceries, and her 17-year-old daughter is getting a job to help.
“I want to raise a responsible young woman, but I hate that I’m putting adult responsibilities on her shoulders,” she said. “But it’s make or break for us.”
Many tenants aren’t protected from high increases under the current law. It doesn’t apply to buildings constructed within the past 15 years or to subsidized housing. Landlords can also set rent as high as they like between tenants.
The Sherwood apartment complex where Jessica Israel lives with her husband and small child was built in 2014, so the current rent increase cap doesn’t apply. New owners purchased the complex last fall, and Israel described during a news conference earlier in March how the new company plans to charge her family an extra $560 per month – a 32% increase – if she renews her lease. If she doesn’t sign a new lease, she can rent month-to-month – with a 50% increase over her current rent.
“We would never think that it is OK for someone to instantaneously lose 32% or 50% of their income, so how can it be allowed as a rent increase?” Israel said.
As introduced, the bill would expand the rent control law to cover apartments built more than three years ago. Proposed amendments would restore exemptions to homes built within the past 10 or 15 years.
Rent increases can even price people who own mobile homes out of the parks where they rent land. Cynthia Dettman, a retired attorney and president of a mobile home tenants association in Ashland, said she and the 116 other households in her park were lucky to face a 7% or $40 monthly increase this year. But the park’s residents, mostly senior citizens and many with disabilities, can’t afford continued increases and don’t have the option to move.
“There’s no way to move a mobile home,” she said. “So you’re basically between a rock and a hard place. You want to stay here. You own your home. You don’t want to lose your home. You’re going to pay that rent increase, even if it means your pets don’t get food or you don’t get medicine.”
Most opponents identified themselves as landlords or property managers. They argued that passing the bill would result in landlords leaving the business or choosing to raise rent by the maximum allowed every year.
They also said that tighter rent control laws would stand in the way of building 36,000 new homes per year, a goal Gov. Tina Kotek set to fill the state’s housing shortage.
“It sends a signal to investors that Oregon isn’t open for business,” said Molly McGrew, a lobbyist for the landlord advocacy group Multifamily NW.
Separately, lawmakers are considering a measure that would allow cities and counties to enact their own rent control laws. House Bill 3503 is scheduled for a vote in the House Committee on Housing and Homelessness on April 4.
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