2018 Oregon Legislative Session Begins - MHCO Legislative Update

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Today the Oregon Legislature convened for a ‘short’ legislative session – lasting 35 days until the first week in March.

 

Legislators have strict limits on the amount of bills they can introduce this year (2 in the House and 1 in the Senate), so we don't expect a lot of proposed hostile legislation. What this means though, is that the bills that are introduced have less competition for attention and have fewer hurdles to passage. 

 

For the first time in over five years the legislature has not submitted a rent control bill and the number of hostile landlord/rental property bills is minimal.  The war on landlords seems to have taken a pause.  The political reality is that the same political dynamics are in place that existed at the end of the full legislative session in July 2017.  Depending on the outcome of the primary elections in May 2018 and the general election in November 2018 we could and most likely will face a significant rent control fight in 2019 and a pile of anti landlord legislation. 

 

There are two bills that MHCO is watching during this short legislative session:

 

HB 4006:  Requires Housing and Community Services Department to annually provide to each city and county data showing percentage of individuals resident in city or county who are severely rent burdened. Requires city or county in which at least 25 percent of population is severely rent burdened to hold public meeting to discuss issue and submit plan to department to reduce rent burdens for severely rent burdened individuals in city or county.

 

Observation:  MHCO Opposes. The legislature has for a long time wanted better data on rent.  As many of you know MHCO has been collecting rent data on a voluntary basis from MHCO members for a number of years.  This data was very helpful in defeating rent control proposals in the 2017 Legislative Session.  We have attempted to broaden that database to include non-members with little success.  MHCO’s concern has always been that the legislature will bend whatever data they collect to justify rent control.  As we have stated in testimony before the Oregon House Committee Housing in March 2017 – “if the data shows there is little problem with rent and rent increases you (the Oregon Legislature) will say “see no problem if we do rent control because most properties are under the rent increase limits”; if the data shows there is a problem then the legislature will say “ha – this proves there is a problem”.  MHCO opposes the state accumulating this information which will be used to justify whatever course of action the legislature chooses.” The state collection of rent data adds yet another paperwork drill to an already over regulated industry.

 

HB 4085: Requires court to award attorney fees, costs and necessary disbursements to tenant prevailing in action arising under rental agreement or landlord-tenant law. Authorizes court to award attorney fees, costs and necessary disbursements to landlord prevailing in action arising under rental agreement or landlord-tenant law. Requires court to award attorney fees, costs and necessary disbursements to landlord prevailing in action arising under rental agreement or landlord-tenant law if court determines tenant had no reasonable basis for asserting claim or appealing judgment. Authorizes court to award attorney fees, costs and necessary disbursements to prevailing party in action arising under rental agreement or landlord-tenant law but not between landlord and tenant.

 

Observation: MHCO Opposes. (provided by Phil Querin – MHCO Legal Counsel).  This proposal is an attempt to deal with a case in which a judge refused to award attorney fees to either party.   It is an over-reaction.   Each case has its own unique facts, and should not be the basis of legislation attempting to “fix” what the drafters view as a travesty of justice. The legislation essentially says that the court “shall” i.e. must award fees (it’s not discretionary)  to the tenant if the tenant prevails, and “may” award fees (i.e. it’s discretionary), if the landlord prevails.  The only time the court “shall” award fees to the landlord is if the tenant’s case “had no objectively reasonable basis….”

 

It appears that the court case had counterclaims, and that’s why there were two prevailing parties. I’ve seen this before. It’s not unheard of. And the fact that the judge didn’t award fees to either side is no different than if he/she awarded an equal amount to both sides, i.e. no fees to either side. This is not unusual or unheard of, since awarding attorney fees is considered discretionary with the court.

 

This is an example of where “bad facts make bad law”. We don’t want legislation that attempts to tip the balance in favor of one side or the other just because of a single set of facts. This isn’t a widespread problem. 

 

Awarding attorney fees should always remain discretionary, since it allows the judge to administer a little “rough justice”, e.g. denying fees to the prevailing party who, in the opinion of the judge, won the case, but didn’t “deserve” prevailing fees.

 

MHCO will continue to monitor developments in the Oregon Legislature.  Don’t forget – MHCO Lobby Day is February 28th at the Oregon State Capitol.  Don’t let our success in 2017 and the lack of hostile legislation during the short legislative session in 2018 give you a false sense of security.  Rent control and other hostile legislation will be back.  Our success depends on all of us working the halls of the Oregon State Capitol telling our story.  We look forward to seeing you Wednesday, February 28th in Salem!

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