There are four fundamental things to understand:
1. What is a lease?
2. How a lease ends
3. What is an eviction?
4. New rules for the COVID-19 era
Important notice: Please note that everything on this site (or, for that matter, in our presentation) is intended only as a summary of the law, and is not legal advice and does not create an attorney/client relationship. Important exceptions may apply that could change your rights and responsibilities. Please bear in mind also that in this area of law, some of the rules discussed here are new and untested in the courts, and things may change rapidly. (This page was last updated on May 17, 2020.) You should consult with an attorney in private if you have any questions.
1. A written contract to rent a dwelling, or
2. An agreement to pay rent in exchange for the right to live somewhere (with or without a written document) .
If you pay rent, you have a lease.
A lease can either be month-to-month, or (if in writing) for a particular term. If a term lease expires, but the tenant keeps paying rent and the landlord keeps accepting rent, the lease converts to a month-to-month lease.
A lease ends if it expires and is not renewed; if the tenant gives a notice to the landlord and leaves; or if the landlord gives a notice of termination to the tenant. Our concern here is with the notices that the landlord might give to the tenant.
Even before the COVID-19 pandemic, no-cause terminations of leases were mostly prohibited under Oregon law, once a tenant has lived in a residence for more than one year. There are some important exceptions. These include: landlords who share their personal dwelling with a tenant can terminate the tenancy for no cause; so can landlords who intend to move personally into the dwelling, or who have sold it to someone who intends to do so. Other exceptions apply for substantial work done on the property or properties that are not fit for habitation.
Causes for termination of leases fall into three main categories:
1. Violation of a lease (other than failure to pay rent) - requires 30 days' written notice, with 14 days to 'cure' the violation
2. Failure to pay rent - requires 72 hours' written notice, during which time the rent can be paid
3. Serious wrongdoing - requires 24 hours' written notice
If the tenant leaves within the notice period, the law considers the matter resolved. If the tenant refuses to leave, pay the rent, or otherwise address the violation, the landlord can proceed with an eviction. A notice of termination is not an eviction.
An eviction is a lawsuit (technically, a 'Forcible Entry and Detainer' suit) filed by a landlord for possession of a dwelling. The landlord must go to the Court and file a petition. The Court will schedule a trial date. At the trial, the landlord must prove:
1. They have the right to possession (i.e., they own the place).
2. They gave notice properly.
3. The tenant violated the lease or did something that justifies eviction.
If the landlord can prove these things, the Court will give them a Judgment of Eviction. If the tenant still refuses to leave, the landlord can ask law enforcement personnel to remove the tenants for them.
By Executive Order of the Governor, for 90 days beginning April 1, 2020, landlords may not terminate leases for a tenant's failure to pay rent, or for no cause. No proof of loss of income or sickness is required (for residential tenancies; there are some more limited protections for commercial tenancies as well, which follow different rules). Terminations for other causes are still permitted. However, due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the Courts are closed to most non-emergency hearings. You need special permission from a judge to get a hearing date.
Tenants are instructed to pay rent if they are financially able to do so, and to notify the landlord as soon as possible if they are unable to pay. However, no penalty is explicitly imposed for their failure to do so. You can read the full text of the Executive Order here.
It is not clear what will happen when the 90-day moratorium expires. As the law currently stands, tenants will owe the full amount of any rent at that time for all the months it was not paid. Some cities including Portland and Hillsboro have set time periods for repayment, during which evictions will still be prohibited. In Washington County, proof loss of income is required for this protection.
1. If you are a tenant, you do not have to pay rent for April, May, or June (unless the law changes). If you are a landlord, you cannot evict a tenant for not paying rent at this time.
2. Tenants don't need to prove loss of income, sickness, or any other reason to qualify for this protection (except for commercial tenants), although they might have to prove these things for a repayment period later.
3. Tenants are likely to have to pay the rent back at some point (unless the law changes).
4. Tenants should notify their landlords of what they plan to do.
5. If you are a tenant and you can pay rent, you probably should.
6. If you are a landlord, you should not count upon tenants paying rent in this period. Even if they ultimately do end up owing the rent, you can't collect money from someone who doesn't have any. Land owners who are unable to make their mortgage payments as a result of this situation should consult promptly with their mortgage lenders to seek relief. More information is available here.