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Proposal would let landlords require renter’s insurance, restrict background …

A suite of proposals in the Oregon Senate could let landlords require tenants to purchase rental insurance while restricting the criminal history the landlords can consider in vetting prospective tenants.

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An amendment to Senate Bill 91, drafted by the Oregon Landlord-Tenant Coalition, would also allow landlords to charge fees to tenants who flout written rules and policies after a written warning.

The part of the proposal that would bar property owners from considering parts of a potential tenant’s criminal history in their screening has split landlords groups.

The coalition’s proposal would restrict landlords from considering
arrests in screening potential tenants, and they could consider criminal
convictions only if the crime is relevant to their tenancy. Drug
crimes, sex offenses, “person crimes” such as assault or financial
crimes could be considered; offenses that wouldn’t directly affect the
property or neighbors’ quality of life could not.

Traffic offenses, including driving under the influence
or reckless driving, would not be considered in background checks under
the law. Nor would crimes like illegal camping, sidewalk violations or
public urination, citations frequently that frequently  affect the
homeless and shouldn’t be an additional barrier to finding housing, proponents said.

Multifamily NW,
one of the state’s largest landlord groups, supports the proposal,
saying other states have been forced to confront the issue of screening criminal
history in the courts as the result of lawsuits. In some cases, criminal history has become a protected class, like race, sex or religion, that can’t be considered at all.

“That just takes criminal behavior out of the equation,” Multifamily NW Executive Director Deborah Imse told The Oregonian on Thursday. “This train is coming down the track, so we need to be proactive and make sure we protect all the residents in the property.”

But the Rental Housing Association of Greater Portland
says the law could be burdensome for small-time landlords.  Cindy
Robert, a lobbyist for the group, said most of its members have 10 or
fewer rental units and don’t live on the premises or have a property
manager checking on the property daily.

“They rely on the criminal history of the people that will be in that
unit, who are independent of anyone watching over them,” Robert said.

Landlords also wouldn’t be allowed to consider evictions that occurred
more than five years earlier under the proposal, nor evictions never
carried out because the tenant won in court.

The bill could allow landlords to require tenants to buy renter’s insurance. Policies typically covers a tenants belongings in the event of theft or fire, but landlord are interested in tenants obtaining insurance that covers liability if someone is injured in the apartment or accidental damage to the property. They usually cost $100 a year or more.

Landlords would have to alert rental applicants in writing that they would be required to obtain renter’s insurance, and it would carve out an exemption for low-income renters or landlords if the property is subsidized by public funds.

Finally, the proposal would allow landlords to charge tenants a fee for repeated violations of written rules after an initial written warning. The fee can’t exceed $50 for a second offense or $50 plus 5 percent of the monthly rent for a subsequent offense. A previous landlord-tenant bill had greatly curtailed the types of fees landlords can charge tenants.

The Senate General Government, Consumer and Small Business Protection Committee on Wednesday heard testimony on the bill and an amendment, which contains most of proposed changes, but didn’t act on either.

–Elliot Njus

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