Answer: Oregon House Bill 4213 prohibits residential evictions (including eviction notices) based on nonpayment of rent and other charges owed to the landlord that became due during the “emergency period.” HB 4213 specifically defines the “emergency period” as beginning April 1, 2020 and ending on September 30, 2020.
Governor Kate Brown’s Executive Order No. 20-56 extended the eviction moratorium through the end of the year until December 31, 2020. However, like HB 4213, the “nonpayment” period is specifically defined to mean payments that became due to the landlord during the period beginning on April 1, 2020 and ending on the extended date of December 31, 2020.
Both HB 4213 and EO 20-56 specificallyset April 1, 2020 as the starting point for the eviction moratorium. Any amounts that were owed before that date to the landlord are therefore notcovered by the eviction moratorium prohibitions.
In my opinion, you could lawfully serve a 72-hour rent nonpayment notice on these tenants requiring payment of their rent for January, February and March. If they failed to pay the full amount due for those months by the 72-hour notice deadline, you could file an eviction case in court.
There are (of course) a few caveats. First, you or your attorney would likely need to educate the court with this analysis to allow the case to proceed. Second, you should probably expect an argument from the tenants or their attorney on this issue, but if the court follows the specific language in the regulations, you should prevail. Third, it is possible the tenants could try to short-circuit the eviction by invoking the federal CDC eviction moratorium that is also on the books, but they would have to submit a sworn declaration stating that, among other things, they are unable to pay rent because they have lost income, employment, or suffered extraordinary medical expenses as a result of COVID-19. It does not sound like any of these facts fit the couple you have described.
Obviously, you should consult with a knowledgeable attorney before you decide to pursue this eviction strategy. Also be sure to check whether your county or local municipality may have enacted a broader moratorium that might cover the rent amounts due earlier in the year. And finally, you may want to consider simply suing the tenants in small claims court for these rent amounts instead of pursuing a full-blown eviction case.