The Multnomah County Board of Commissioners voted unanimously Thursday, April 16, to clarify the County’s COVID-19 eviction moratorium while also continuing to protect residential tenants.
Commissioners originally passed a moratorium on residential evictions March 19, to make sure that people would not lose their homes because of the COVID-19 crisis. Then, on April 1, Gov. Kate Brown issued a statewide eviction moratorium with several provisions that differed from the County’s. Thursday’s vote in support of a new eviction moratorium ordinance suspends enforcement of the County’s original ordinance in favor of adopting the statewide order.
“When this board first passed the eviction moratorium ordinance… we knew that we would likely have to make adjustments as the world around us continues to change because of COVID-19,” said Chair Deborah Kafoury. “Since that ordinance, things have indeed changed.”
County Attorney Jenny Madkour said the state’s eviction moratorium prohibits both residential and commercial tenants from being evicted for nonpayment of rent during the state of emergency.
The state’s moratorium also protects residential tenants unable to pay rent because of lost income for any reason — not just COVID-19-related impacts. In addition, the statewide order allows residential tenants to notify their landlords of their inability to pay rent as soon as they reasonably can. The County’s original ordinance required notification by or before the date when rent was due.
Tenants in Multnomah County should continue to pay their rent on time if they are able to do so.
The County’s newly adopted ordinance also maintains a crucial tenant protection by re-affirming the County’s six-month repayment grace period. The statewide moratorium does not include a repayment grace period. Under the County ordinance, residential tenants will have six months to pay back any unpaid rent accrued during the eviction moratorium; the grace period starts once the Governor’s eviction moratorium order is lifted or the County’s emergency declaration ends, whichever is later.
Commissioners recognized that repayment, even over the course of six months, will present a serious hardship for most tenants.
“It will be challenging for a lot of people to make up the difference because, potentially, it's not just your housing or your rent, it's also going to be your student loans [and] other things you may have deferred,” Commissioner Jessica Vega Pederson said.
“The underlying issue here of housing unaffordability is one that preexisted the COVID emergency, and is also going to be one that lasts after it is over,” Commissioner Susheela Jayapal said. “We’re still going to have to come up with long-term solutions to that underlying problem, like rent assistance, like building more affordable housing. But for now this is what we can do to address the public health crisis.”
Chair Kafoury said the County’s six-month grace period anticipates that additional state or federal funds would be made available to Multnomah County to provide rent assistance to residential tenants.
“It’s really buying us time so that people don't lose their homes right now and end up on our streets in the middle of a pandemic,” she said.
Chair Kafoury also acknowledged that the rapidly changing nature of the COVID-19 crisis means the County must remain flexible and nimble to respond to the community’s needs.
“While today we are aligning with the governor’s order and giving tenants some breathing room, we know this may not be the last time this policy returns to the board for additional updates,” she said. “My goal will remain the same throughout, which is to make sure that people do not lose their homes or become homeless because of this crisis.”
Multnomah County has created a webpage at multco.us/covid-eviction that includes resources like a Frequently Asked Questions document and a simple guide to the eviction moratorium. Documents are available in both English and Spanish, while more languages will be added soon.