PORTLAND, Ore. (CN) — As Oregon lawmakers mull an extension of the state moratorium on evictions caused by the Covid-19 pandemic, numbers show that current moratoriums haven’t done much to slow the numbers of Portland families tossed out of their homes.
Ryan Pauley was confused when his landlord tracked him down at a basketball court and handed him a three-day notice to vacate his home in northeast Portland’s Cully neighborhood.
Pauley was laid off in March, when the doggie daycare he worked for downsized because people started staying home and keeping their dogs with them. Four months later, he had exhausted his savings. In July, he couldn’t pay his $1,650 monthly rent. He was counting on state and county moratoriums prohibiting evictions where tenants can’t pay rent because of a pandemic-related income loss.
At his first court appearance, Pauley voiced his confusion.
“Isn’t there a moratorium against this?” Pauley asked during a hearing with Multnomah County Circuit Court Judge Mark Peterson.
The case lacked clear foundation in the law. But instead of tossing it out, Peterson noted in court records that the landlord’s claims contradict the state moratorium and postponed further hearings until January, after the moratorium was set to expire.
Vladimir Ozeruga owns the eight-unit building where Pauley lives. Reached by phone, Ozeruga called Pauley “lazy” and accused him of growing marijuana in his apartment. That claim does not appear in court documents outlining reasons for the eviction action. The only reason listed is non-payment of rent.
Multnomah County, which includes Portland, on Thursday extended its eviction moratorium through July 2. Meanwhile, lawmakers will vote Monday whether to extend the statewide moratorium.
None of that was a deterrent for Ozeruga.
“We’ll see what the judge will say,” Ozeruga said. “If he doesn’t evict him, I will be looking for another way to evict him.”
Ozeruga also sued Pauley in small claims court for $8,000 of back rent, even though the moratorium includes a six-month grace period for repayment, beginning July 2.
“This whole thing has caused a lot of anxiousness in my life,” Pauley told Courthouse News. “It’s a very awkward situation when a person of power is abusing his control over my place to live.”
Pauley isn’t the only one in the lurch of an eviction summons when he thought he was protected by a moratorium. According to an analysis from the National Low Income Housing Coalition, 19 million Americans are facing eviction on New Year’s Day, when federal rules that prevent landlords from tossing out tenants for Covid-19-related non-payment of rent are set to expire.
Eviction proceedings in Multnomah County Circuit Court were slowed to a trickle when courts closed for the first months of the pandemic. Still, 19 households were evicted during that time, according to numbers provided by the Multnomah County Sheriff’s Office. Sheriffs are required under Oregon law to carry out judges’ eviction orders.
Evictions from April through July were mostly based on court orders from before the federal and state eviction moratoriums began. A few new cases proceeded during that time where landlords claimed a delay would violate a legal or constitutional right, jeopardize public health or safety, or result in imminent irreparable harm.
When the eviction court started hearing cases again on Aug. 3, state and county moratoriums remained in place. But evictions ramped up, with 153 households forced out of their homes before Nov. 19, when the court again stopped hearing cases because of Gov. Brown’s “freeze” order, due to increasing cases of Covid-19.
In September, the month with the highest number of court-ordered evictions since the pandemic began, Multnomah County sheriffs evicted 61 households — on par with 2018’s monthly average of 63 evictions, and not far below the monthly average of 76 in 2019.
And as many as 63 additional families may have lost their homes in September after signing agreements that can include moving out instead of fighting an eviction. Since Oregon law doesn’t require tenant access to an attorney, they often show up to court alone to face off with a seasoned property management lawyer.
The judge often gives them just a few minutes to hash out an agreement. Under those conditions, moving out voluntarily can look like the only way to avoid an eviction on their credit report.
Moratorium or not, housing attorney Doug Hagerman said evictions have continued at a pace similar to previous years.
“They haven’t really slowed down at all,” Hagerman said.
Under Multnomah County’s moratorium, landlords can still evict tenants who don’t pay their rent for reasons other than job loss due to the pandemic. Evictions are also allowed for other reasons, like illegal acts or other lease violations.
Some landlord complaints reviewed by Courthouse News accused tenants of not paying their rent in combination with other small infractions. One case documented the months when a woman had fallen behind on rent, but the landlord’s stated reason for asking a judge to evict her was that she had given out the security code to access the apartment complex to her boyfriend.
Colleen Carroll, a co-founder of renters’ advocacy group Don’t Evict PDX, has watched remote eviction hearings daily since the courts re-opened this summer.
“For most folks, understanding how an eviction will make access to future housing nearly impossible is a fear that they walk into that courtroom with and they will do anything to keep that from happening to themselves and their families,” Carroll said.
In early December, as winter loomed and case counts spiraled higher than ever, researchers linked U.S. evictions to 10,000 deaths from Covid-19. That followed a September warning from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention that evictions could be “detrimental” to efforts to prevent the spread of the novel coronavirus.
“There’s no good reason to kick somebody out of their housing right now,” Carroll said. “There’s just no good reason.”