UPDATE: On December 15th, Governor Kate Brown announced she was calling a 1-day special session of the Oregon Legislature, which will be held on 12/21. Lawmakers will tackle the state’s eviction moratorium — set to expire on December 31st — aid for landlords, COVID-19 vaccine distribution, and wildfire preparedness. We’ll follow up with more information after the special session ends.

The coronavirus pandemic hit Oregon hard. In late March, Governor Kate Brown ordered many businesses to close in an attempt to control the spread of the virus. As a result, thousands of Oregon workers suddenly lost their jobs. Almost overnight, the state’s unemployment rate skyrocketed from a healthy 3.5% in March to an astounding 14.9% in April. While that number has steadily dropped to its current level of 6.9%, it’s still at its highest rate since 2013. In response to these widespread job losses, Governor Brown issued an eviction moratorium in late March, halting all residential evictions through the end of September. In a subsequent order, Governor Brown extended the moratorium through the end of 2020. Now, a group of lawmakers is urging the governor to take further actions that protect tenants and provide relief for struggling landlords.

Growing Rent Debt

Oregon’s eviction moratorium is not rent forgiveness or assistance. Instead, the orders prevent landlords from evicting tenants for nonpayment. In the meantime, these tenants incur a growing balance of back rental payments, which they must repay in full whenever the moratoriums end to avoid eviction. In many ways, this approach pushes a very real problem further down the road. A recent MarketWatch article presented a set of sobering statistics for the pandemic housing market.

“[B]y December around 1.34 million renter households will be behind on their rent as a result of pandemic-related job losses, which equates to roughly 4.2% of all renter households. Altogether, these households will owe roughly $7.2 billion in rent by December, averaging to around $5,400.”

To make matters worse, the pandemic’s economic impact has not been spread equally among Americans. A recent report from the Census Bureau’s Household Pulse Survey found that people of color were more likely to be behind on rent than their white counterparts.

“Renters of color were more likely to report that their household was not caught up on rent: about 1 in 4 Black (25 percent) and Asian (24 percent) renters and 1 in 5 Latino (22 percent) renters said they were not caught up on rent, compared to just 1 in 9 white (12 percent) renters.”

As the pandemic continues, these debts grow. There’s increasing concern among housing experts that, once the pandemic finally ends, the country could face a surge in evictions as distressed tenants cannot pay off their large rent debts. The financial impacts continue throughout the housing supply chain as well. Landlords will absorb those moratorium losses and could face consequences of their own if they can’t meet their debt obligations.

Most Landlords are Individuals

Despite the perception that most landlords are faceless corporations, individual investors make up the biggest group in the rental housing market. According to the US Census Bureau’s 2015 Rental Housing Finance Survey (RHFS), individuals owned 74.4 percent of all rental properties and 47.8 percent of all rental units. By comparison, corporations owned 14.8 percent of rental properties and 33.2 percent of rental units. This means that many individual investors are absorbing lost rental payments due to the pandemic’s economic fallout.

Unlike corporations that tend to own multi-unit properties, individual investors have fewer resources to draw on during tough times. In many cases, these are people trying to earn a little extra money or supplement their retirement savings. There are foreclosure protections in place for Federal Housing Authority (FHA) mortgage owners through the end of 2020. However, no federal, state, or local governments have offered a long-term strategy to assist this group.

Oregon Group Urges Special Session

That all may change if one group of Oregon lawmakers gets their way. According to a recent Willamette Week article, a group of lawmakers and residents is urging Governor Brown to call a special session to deal with this impending housing crisis. The group has met since August and examined other state’s pandemic responses. Two of the main changes they recommend are:

  • A sworn statement to their landlords, demonstrating financial hardship.
  • An extension on the foreclosure notice landlords give from 72 hours to 15 days.

Their proposals also include a $100 million compensation fund for landlords. Under their scenario, landlords would apply for rental assistance through the Oregon Housing & Community Services Department. If their application is approved, landlords would receive a check on the condition they forgive 20% of the tenant’s back rent. Landlords could make assistance requests for multiple tenants at once, if necessary. The state would also prioritize small landlords and the landlords with the highest amount of back rent owed.

While Governor Brown has yet to schedule a special session, she claims she’s open to the idea. The group hopes to convene the Oregon Legislature before the end of the year, to help tenants whose foreclosure protections end December 31st.

We’re Here To Help

Many investment owners are concerned about how Oregon’s eviction moratorium could impact them. While most renters are current with their payments, it doesn’t take much to upend that stability. If you’re self-managing your investment property, and things change suddenly, you’ll be left to face that situation alone. On top of the challenges brought on by the pandemic, significant legislative changes like Oregon’s rent control laws and Portland’s rental relocation assistance and tenants rights laws have added new challenges to investment ownership. However, this uncertainty shouldn’t discourage investment owners. Instead, it’s a reminder of how important it is to partner with a trusted real estate expert.

Despite these new regulations and the difficulties brought on by the pandemic, Rent Portland Homes by Darla Andrew is still helping our clients be successful investment owners. Our expertise ensures our clients are always meeting industry best practices and following current tenant laws. In the rare case when something goes wrong, our team will also be there to assist. If you’re a self-managing owner who’d like to learn how we can make your job easier, we’d love to talk. You can call Darla directly at (503) 515-3170. Or, you can email us using the contact form on our website. We can’t wait to hear from you!