Phil Querin Q&A: Rules vs. Rental Agreement – What if they conflict?

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August 7, 2016
Phil Querin
MHCO Legal Counsel
Querin Law

Question.  What is the difference between the enforceability of our rules vs our rental agreement? What if they conflict?

Answer.   ORS 90.100(38) defines the “Rental agreement” as: “…all agreements, written or oral, and valid rules and regulations adopted under ORS 90.262 or 90.510 (6) embodying the terms and conditions concerning the use and occupancy of a dwelling unit and premises. “Rental agreement” includes a lease. A rental agreement shall be either a week-to-week tenancy, month-to-month tenancy or fixed term tenancy. (Emphasis added.)

 

So technically, “rules” are really a part of the rental agreement. Of the many definitions of terms in ORS 90.100, there is no separate definition of “rules”.  However, they are given different treatment throughout the Oregon Residential Landlord Tenant Agreement.

 

For example, ORS 90.262 (Use and occupancy rules and regulations; adoption; enforceability; restrictions) explains the intent and purpose behind rules and regulations. It provides:

 

90.262 (1) A landlord, from time to time, may adopt a rule or regulation, however described, concerning the tenant’s use and occupancy of the premises. It is enforceable against the tenant only if:

      (a) Its purpose is to promote the convenience, safety or welfare of the tenants in the premises, preserve the landlord’s property from abusive use, or make a fair distribution of services and facilities held out for the tenants generally;

      (b) It is reasonably related to the purpose for which it is adopted;

      (c) It applies to all tenants in the premises in a fair manner;

      (d) It is sufficiently explicit in its prohibition, direction or limitation of the tenant’s conduct to fairly inform the tenant of what the tenant must or must not do to comply;

      (e) It is not for the purpose of evading the obligations of the landlord; and

      (f) The tenant has written notice of it at the time the tenant enters into the rental agreement, or when it is adopted.

      (2) If a rule or regulation adopted after the tenant enters into the rental agreement works a substantial modification of the bargain, it is not valid unless the tenant consents to it in writing.

      (3) If adopted, an occupancy guideline for a dwelling unit shall not be more restrictive than two people per bedroom and shall be reasonable. Reasonableness shall be determined on a case-by-case basis. Factors to be considered in determining reasonableness include, but are not limited to:

      (a) The size of the bedrooms;

      (b) The overall size of the dwelling unit; and

      (c) Any discriminatory impact on those identified in ORS 659A.421.

      (4) As used in this section:

      (a) “Bedroom” means a habitable room that:

      (A) Is intended to be used primarily for sleeping purposes;

      (B) Contains at least 70 square feet; and

      (C) Is configured so as to take the need for a fire exit into account.

      (b) “Habitable room” means a space in a structure for living, sleeping, eating or cooking. Bathrooms, toilet compartments, closets, halls, storage or utility space and similar areas are not included. [Formerly 90.330]

 

The above element of lawful rules bear re-reading, since occasionally, I have seen landlord enforcement actions against tenants attacked for failure to comply with ORS 90.262, especially the portion of the statute that provides rules must be “…reasonably related to the purpose for which it is adopted.”

 

ORS 90.302(3)(a) (Fees allowed for certain landlord expenses; accounting not required; fees for noncompliance with written rules; tenant remedies) provides that

 

A landlord may charge a tenant a fee under this subsection for a second noncompliance or for a subsequent noncompliance with written rules or policies that describe the prohibited conduct and the fee for a second noncompliance, and for any third or subsequent noncompliance, that occurs within one year after a written warning notice described in subparagraph (A) of this paragraph. Except as provided in paragraph (b)(H) [unauthorized pet] of this subsection, the fee may not exceed $50 for the second noncompliance within one year after the warning notice for the same or a similar noncompliance or $50 plus five percent of the rent payment for the current rental period for a third or subsequent noncompliance within one year after the warning notice for the same or a similar noncompliance. 

 

ORS 90.510(2) (Statement of Policy) requires that both the rental agreement and the rules “…shall be attached as an exhibit to the statement of policy.”

 

Subsection (5) of ORS 90.510 (Statement of Policy) has similar, but not exactly the same language as quoted in ORS 90.262 above:

 

  (6) Every landlord who rents a space for a manufactured dwelling or floating home shall provide rules and regulations concerning the tenant’s use and occupancy of the premises. A violation of the rules and regulations may be cause for termination of a rental agreement. However, this subsection does not create a presumption that all rules and regulations are identical for all tenants at all times. A rule or regulation shall be enforceable against the tenant only if:

      (a) The rule or regulation:

      (A) Promotes the convenience, safety or welfare of the tenants;

      (B) Preserves the landlord’s property from abusive use; or

      (C) Makes a fair distribution of services and facilities held out for the general use of the tenants.

      (b) The rule or regulation:

      (A) Is reasonably related to the purpose for which it is adopted and is reasonably applied;

      (B) Is sufficiently explicit in its prohibition, direction or limitation of the tenant’s conduct to fairly inform the tenant of what the tenant shall do or may not do to comply; and

      (C) Is not for the purpose of evading the obligations of the landlord.

      (7)(a) A landlord who rents a space for a manufactured dwelling or floating home may adopt a rule or regulation regarding occupancy guidelines. If adopted, an occupancy guideline in a facility must be based on reasonable factors and not be more restrictive than limiting occupancy to two people per bedroom.

      (b) As used in this subsection:

      (A) Reasonable factors may include but are not limited to:

      (i) The size of the dwelling.

      (ii) The size of the rented space.

      (iii) Any discriminatory impact for reasons identified in ORS 659A.421.

      (iv) Limitations placed on utility services governed by a permit for water or sewage disposal.

      (B) “Bedroom” means a room that is intended to be used primarily for sleeping purposes and does not include bathrooms, toilet compartments, closets, halls, storage or utility space and similar areas.

 

ORS 90.610(3) (Informal dispute resolution; notice of proposed change in rule or regulation; objection to change by tenant) explains how rules are changed:

 

The landlord may propose changes in rules or regulations, including changes that make a substantial modification of the landlord’s bargain with a tenant, by giving written notice of the proposed rule or regulation change, and unless tenants of at least 51 percent of the eligible spaces in the facility object in writing within 30 days of the date the notice was served, the change shall become effective for all tenants of those spaces on a date not less than 60 days after the date that the notice was served by the landlord.

      (4) One tenant of record per eligible space may object to the rule or regulation change through either:

      (a) A signed and dated written communication to the landlord; or

      (b) A petition format that is signed and dated by tenants of eligible spaces and that includes a copy of the proposed rule or regulation and a copy of the notice.

      (5) If a tenant of an eligible space signs both a written communication to the landlord and a petition under subsection (4) of this section, or signs more than one written communication or petition, only the latest signature of the tenant may be counted.

      (6) Notwithstanding subsection (4) of this section, a proxy may be used only if a tenant has a disability that prevents the tenant from objecting to the rule or regulation change in writing.

 

      (7) The landlord’s notice of a proposed change in rules or regulations required by subsection (3) of this section must be given or served as provided in ORS 90.155 and must include:

      (a) Language of the existing rule or regulation and the language that would be added or deleted by the proposed rule or regulation change;

 

Subsection (7) of ORS 90.610 provides the statutory form to follow when changing rules.

 

In regards to rental agreements, ORS Chapter 90.510(4) mandates the minimal provisions that must appear in the rental agreement:

 

Every landlord who rents a space for a manufactured dwelling or floating home shall provide a written rental agreement, except as provided by ORS 90.710 (2)(d) [enforceability of oral rental agreements]. The agreement must be signed by the landlord and tenant and may not be unilaterally amended by one of the parties to the contract except by:

      (a) Mutual agreement of the parties;

      (b) Actions taken pursuant to ORS 90.530, 90.533, 90.537, 90.543 (3), 90.600, 90.725 (3)(f) and (7) or 90.727; or

      (c) Those provisions required by changes in statute or ordinance.

      (5) The agreement required by subsection (4) of this section must specify:

      (a) The location and approximate size of the rented space;

      (b) The federal fair-housing age classification;

      (c) The rent per month;

      (d) All personal property, services and facilities to be provided by the landlord;

      (e) All security deposits, fees and installation charges imposed by the landlord;

      (f) Any facility policy regarding the planting of trees on the rented space for a manufactured dwelling;

      (g) Improvements that the tenant may or must make to the rental space, including plant materials and landscaping;

      (h) Provisions for dealing with improvements to the rental space at the termination of the tenancy;

      (i) Any conditions the landlord applies in approving a purchaser of a manufactured dwelling or floating home as a tenant in the event the tenant elects to sell the home. Those conditions must be in conformance with state and federal law and may include, but are not limited to, conditions as to pets, number of occupants and screening or admission criteria;

      (j) That the tenant may not sell the tenant’s manufactured dwelling or floating home to a person who intends to leave the manufactured dwelling or floating home on the rental space until the landlord has accepted the person as a tenant;

      (k) The term of the tenancy;

      (L) The process by which the rental agreement or rules and regulations may be changed, which shall identify that the rules and regulations may be changed with 60 days’ notice unless tenants of at least 51 percent of the eligible spaces file an objection within 30 days; and

      (m) The process by which the landlord or tenant shall give notices.

 

Conclusion.  So, in my opinion, the differences between rules vs. rental agreement, can be generally summarized as follows:

 

  • The contents of what goes into rules, are not specifically described in the Oregon Residential Landlord Tenant Laws – the only general guidance is that they must be fairly applied, and reasonably related to the purpose for which they were enacted.
  • The rental agreement must address certain issues, as set forth in ORS 90.510(4), above.
  • A violation of either the rules or the rental agreement can result in a for cause notice of termination under ORS 90.630.
  • While rental agreements cannot generally[1] be unilaterally changed by the landlord, there is a clear process under the law for amending the rules.
  • So while “rules” are technically a part of the overall “rental agreement” between the landlord and tenant, they are the “mortar” that fills in the gaps the rental agreement doesn’t cover. So for example, while the rental agreement may require that tenants conduct themselves in such a manner as to preserve their neighbor’s quiet enjoyment of their spaces, the rules may address more specifics of this duty, such as lawn mowing, leaf blowing, loud parties, etc.
  • I frequently see much unnecessary overlap in rules and rental agreements, e.g. covering the same things, or covering them inconsistently. This is unfortunate, since it can create confusion among tenants. My rule of thumb would be that in the event of an inconsistency, you should not try to enforce a specific prohibition in one of the documents, if the other is more lenient. Or to put it another way, in the event of two provisions addressing the same issue, landlords should enforce the more lenient of them.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


[1] There are several exceptions relating to changes which, for example, permit landlords to take advantage of newer statutes that give rights not formerly described by the law or found in rental agreements, such as the right to submeter spaces, etc.