Housing: Landlord/Tenant Rights

Prepared by Senate Democratic Legislative Research
October 30, 1995

The landlord/tenant relationship is debated nearly every legislative session. During the last three legislative sessions changes were made in landlord/tenant law that affect this relationship. The following is a list of some of the questions that commonly arise concerning landlord/tenant laws.

What responsibilities does the landlord have to keep a rental unit in good condition?
The Landlord/Tenant Act requires that a rental unit must be in good repair. This includes plumbing facilities, hot and cold running water, adequate heat, working electric lights, working electrical equipment, clean building and grounds and all other areas and facilities properly repaired and working. It cannot have leaks in the roof, walls, windows, or doors.

What types of precautions must the landlord take to ensure a tenant's safety?
The rental unit must include a working smoke detector, with working batteries, provided at the beginning of the tenancy and working locks for all dwelling entrance doors. It is the tenant's responsibility to test the smoke detector every six months and to replace batteries as needed.

What can a tenant do if a landlord does not keep the unit in a livable condition?
A tenant should first write the landlord a letter stating the problem he or she has and ask that it be repaired within a reasonable time. The tenant may be able to negotiate with the landlord to do the repair and adjust the rental payment. The tenant should be sure to have everything in writing so that the issue of rent does not become a problem later. A tenant may also consider court action through the County Small Claims Court if the landlord refuses to take care of the problems. A tenant should not withhold rent without first talking to an attorney.

What essential services must a landlord provide?
Essential services include heat, water and electricity. The tenant is usually asked to pay the utility bill.

What can a tenant do if a landlord does not provide essential services?
A tenant should first contact the landlord and state the problem. Then follow up with a written notice again stating the problem. If the essential service is not restored within a reasonable time, the tenant may buy the service or have the repairs done to restore the service (if not more than $200) and deduct from the rent; go to court; or move somewhere else until the service is restored. The tenant does not have to pay rent while living in substitute housing. The tenant may go to court to recover the cost of the substitute housing up to the amount charged on the original rent if necessary.

What are the rights of the tenant concerning security deposits?
The landlord has 30 days after termination of the rental agreement and the delivery of possession to refund all deposits due. If the landlord needs to keep any of the deposit money to cover damages, breakage, unpaid rent, etc., a statement must be forwarded to the tenant within the 30 days showing the use of that money. Money may not be claimed in this manner by the landlord to cover ordinary wear and tear by the tenant. If the tenant and the landlord disagree on the amount owed, the tenant may contact an attorney or make a claim through Small Claims Court for double the amount of the deposit.

How often may a landlord raise the rent?
A landlord can raise the rent to any level as often as desired, providing the tenant receives at least a 30-day written notice of the change before it goes into effect. For a mobile home space or floating home the landlord must give each tenant at least 90 day's written notice of the increase.

Can a landlord charge an applicant a screening fee?
Yes, the fee covers the cost of obtaining information on the applicant as the landlord processes the application for a rental agreement. The applicant screening fee may not be greater than the customary amount charged by tenant screening services or consumer reporting agencies for a comparable level of screening. The landlord must provide receipts for the applicant screening fee, as well as notify the potential tenant in advance, and in writing, that there will be such a fee.

When an apartment building or other rented property is sold, can the new owners change the rules?
A new landlord cannot substantially change the rules without the tenant's consent. However, if a tenant is renting on a month-to-month basis the landlord can give a 30-day notice to vacate the dwelling. The tenant should contact the new landlord and try to negotiate a new rental agreement.

May a landlord or real estate representative enter a rental unit without asking permission or giving the 24 hour notice?
Normally, the tenant must be notified by the landlord or real estate representative 24 hours in advance. There are certain exceptions for the landlord only: when there is an emergency; when it is "impracticable to contact the tenant;" or if there is a written "agreement to the contrary."

How much notice must a landlord give before the tenant can be forced to leave?
A landlord can give a tenant a 30-day notice to move and not state a reason why. If a tenant is 7 days late in paying rent, the landlord can give a 72 hour notice to pay or move. If rent is paid within 72 hours, then the tenant does not have to move. A landlord can give a tenant a 24 hour notice to move if the tenant has committed an "extremely outrageous" act. This may include threatening other tenants, intentionally damaging property or injuring someone. An act can be proven to be extremely outrageous even if it is one that does not violate a criminal statute.

May a landlord lock out a tenant from a rental because of overdue rent?
No matter what the tenant has done to the rental unit or to the landlord, the tenant cannot be locked out of the unit or have essential services stopped by the landlord.

Does a landlord have a legal obligation to provide garbage services for their tenant?
In a city with a population of 250,000 or more, a landlord is required to provide garbage services. Otherwise, no such obligation exists.

If a tenant has further questions about their rights, they may wish to contact one of the following organizations:

Department of Justice 378-4320
DOJ-Portland Only 229-5576
OSPIRG 231-4181
Portland Housing Assoc. 282-7744
Oregon State Tenants Assoc. 393-7737 (Manufactured homes)
Oregon Housing and Community Services Department 1-800-453-5511
Tel-Law 1-800-452-4776
Oregon State Bar Lawyer Referral 1-800-452-7636
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Compiled by Senate Democratic Legislative Research -- 986-1700