Oregon’s rent control law, explained

With incomes stagnating and home prices soaring, more Americans are renting than ever before. Renting comes with constant worry about rising rents and fear of eviction. In growing cities like Portland, OR, rents have increased 30% in the last five years, prompting the state to take sweeping action to bring relief to Oregonians struggling to find and keep affordable housing. Oregon recently became the first state in the country to enact statewide rent control laws.

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Table of contents

What is rent control?Rent control in OregonRent increasesEviction protections Rent control in Oregon vs. CaliforniaArguments for and against rent control

What is rent control?

Rent control is a broad term for legislation that limits rental rates in a city or state. Rent control laws vary by municipality, but they generally put a limit on annual rent increases and protect tenants from eviction without cause. 

Historically, rent control laws have followed periods of economic inflation or severe housing supply shortage. The aim of these policies is to maintain a base of affordable housing for low- and moderate-income tenants. Some cities in the US have had various forms of rent control for at least the last 40 years, including New York City, Washington, D.C., San Francisco, and Los Angeles.

Rent control in Oregon

Governor Kate Brown made history at Oregon’s state house in early 2019, signing into law the nation’s first statewide rent control act. Senate Bill 608 immediately enacted rent regulations across the state, overturning the state’s previous ban on rent control of any kind. About 500,000 households will be affected by the new law. 

The act has two parts: a rental increase cap and a tightening of rules for evictions. All of these protections apply only to multi-unit buildings constructed more than 15 years ago, whose rent is not subsidised by the government.

Rent increases

Statewide, landlords cannot raise the rent more than 7% plus inflation annually. Inflation is calculated using the Consumer Price Index published by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. For 2020, the maximum rent increase is 9.9%. Between tenants, there is no limit to how much the rent can go up (except if a short-term tenant was just evicted from the unit, a provision that discourages a revolving door of tenants for rent increases.)

Eviction protections

Renters cannot be evicted without cause after a year of tenancy at their apartment. Failure to pay rent is the most common legal cause of eviction. (Note that the following rules vary slightly in Portland.)

  • During the first year, landlords can evict month-to-month tenants without cause with 30 days notice.

  • Under a “for cause” eviction, tenants have 30 days to cure any violations of their lease agreement. 

  • Eviction notices for “no fault” evictions must be served with 90 days notice. The landlord must pay the tenant a relocation assistance fee (usually one month’s rent) under certain circumstances: if the landlord or their family is moving into the unit, substantial renovations are planned, or the unit will be taken off the rental market.

Landlords who are guilty of violating the law will have to pay tenants for damages, plus three months’ rent. 

Rent control in Oregon vs. California

Following Oregon’s lead, California passed its own rent control bill, AB 1482, which took effect on Jan. 1, 2020. The California legislation imposed statewide rent control on multi-unit buildings older than 15 years, like in Oregon, but has some important differences. 

  • Implementation: Some landlords in Oregon rushed to increase rents on current tenants before the law took effect. California’s lawmakers tried to avoid this by setting the base rent at what it was in March of the preceding year. 

  • Varies by city: While Oregon’s law sets the same rate of increase for the whole state, California’s rent thresholds are set at 5% plus various rates (not to exceed 5%) based on the consumer price index of individual metro areas. In California cities that already had rent control, the new law applies in addition to prior protections. 

  • Duration: California’s law will sunset in 2030 unless it is renewed by lawmakers. Oregon’s law has no expiration date. 

Arguments for and against rent control

Supporters of Oregon’s bill argued that it would give rent and eviction protection to low-income people, who make up the majority of rent-controlled households. The combination of rent and eviction protections can help renters stay in their homes, preventing homelessness, which is rising fastest in areas with high rents. 

Opponents of rent control say that it is a short-term solution to Oregon’s housing crisis that ultimately leads to less housing availability (because it decreases renter mobility), lower housing quality when buildings are not maintained, and that it discourages new rental units from being built. In the face of rules that limit their income, developers are more likely to build condos or other kinds of housing.

Oregon’s statewide rent control law is a rarity in the US; 36 states prohibit rent control laws entirely. But with new rent control bills recently passed in California and New York, and up for debate in Illinois, rent regulation is being reconsidered as a solution to housing shortages across the country. 

Rent controlled apartments are often hard to come by. Bungalow offers an alternative: affordable private rooms in shared homes that cost an average of 30% less than market-rate studio apartments in the same neighborhoods. Wifi, utilities, and monthly cleaning are set up before you move in, and all roommates are vetted, so that coliving is seamless. Find a Bungalow near you.

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