SB 608: The Sky is NOT Falling

Wednesday, December 18, 2019 5:00 PM | Maria Menguita (Administrator)

By Jim Straub, Oregon Rental Housing Association Legislative Director
December 18, 2019

SB 608 was the result of those negotiations between myself and Speaker Kotek.  It was passed by the 2019 legislature and went into effect February 28, 2019. Not all tenant advocates like it.  They think the rent raise limitation is too high.  However, landlords know this is not rent control, and the high rent raise limitation is aimed at rent gouging (mainly going on in Portland).  Smart landlords know they’ll have plenty of room to raise their rents every year to take care of things like maintenance, taxes and protecting their investment.

Landlords don’t like SB 608.  They know it’s a bill designed to solve problems they didn’t cause.  It places limitations on their small businesses.  As a landlord, I don’t particularly like this bill, and I don’t know any landlord who would.  However, landlords also know this was a reasonable compromise bill that took the needs of both sides into account.  And all our efforts to reach that compromise made this bill into a much better bill that it otherwise would have been.

And what happens next?  Hopefully, no changes anytime soon.  This law needs time to be put into practice and see if it bears fruit.  There will be pressure by tenant advocates to lower the rent raise cap, but smart legislators know we don’t want to discourage new development.  The last thing Oregon needs is small landlords fleeing the real estate market, leaving big corporations as the last landlords standing in the marketplace.

The worst thing we could do would be to tweak this law before we give enough time for data to come in about how it’s working, or not working.  In fact, at a recent landlord-tenant roundtable discussion I participated in, Professor for Land-Use Planning (Portland State University) Marisa A. Zapata (who is a strong tenant advocate) said, “Some (tenant) advocates say the rent raise limit is too high, but I think we need a wait-and-see approach.  We’re not yet sure what the bill will do and how things will play out.”  Advocates on both sides recommend this cautious approach, which will give this bill a fair opportunity to work as intended. 

So the truth is, do I wish SB 608 had never become law?  You bet.  With a supermajority in the legislature, Speaker Kotek could have passed nearly any housing bill she wanted.  The bill we got was a compromise with landlords, but it doesn’t benefit us much.  Of course, this bill turned out so much better than it might have been without landlord input, but Speaker Kotek’s cure may be worse the ailment.  Time will tell, stay tuned.

About the Author: Jim Straub is the Legislative Director for the Oregon Rental Housing Association, a state-wide trade organization representing more than 5,500 landlords in Oregon. He was President of the Rental Owners Association of Lane County from 2007 to 2015, a local trade organization representing over 1,200 landlords in Lane County. He spent more than a decade as their helpline provider. He is also a past member of the Oregon Youth Conservation Corps where he was appointed by Senate President Peter Courtney and served as an Advisory Board member for 2 terms. He currently serves as an advisory board member for Oregon Housing and Community Services/Oregon Housing Choice Advisory Committee.

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