New Research Highlights Challenges Faced by Oregon’s Safe Harbor Policy

A new report on evictions in Oregon, “Oregon’s Safe Harbor for Tenants: Rocky Shoals in Eviction Diversion,” evaluates the effectiveness of the state’s recent safe harbor policy. This policy delays eviction proceedings for non-payment of rent for tenants who submitted applications to Oregon’s Emergency Rental Assistance Program (OERAP). The delay lasts 60 to 90 days, with the goal of allowing enough time for emergency rental assistance (ERA) funds to reach landlords. Researchers tracked eviction cases from July to September 2021 and found that the safe harbor provision was applied in only 27% of non-payment-of-eviction cases. To increase the use of this provision, the report recommends eliminating the time limits connected to the safe harbor period, enacting a right to counsel, and creating a permanent emergency rental assistance program to continue diversion efforts.

Oregon’s safe harbor provision passed after the state eviction moratorium expired in July 2021. The report analyzes eviction filings, highlighting challenges tenants face at each step in the process, from the initial summons through the final judgment.

The research found that while most eviction summons included information on the safe harbor provision and available rental assistance, the accessibility and clarity of information varied widely. For example, information about these resources used legal terminology, making it inaccessible to the general public. The placement of information in the notices also lacked consistency: in some cases, information about the provision and rental assistance was broken up across pages or only appeared toward the end of the notice. Likewise, notices were provided in English only. Though most notices provided a link to a site with translations in other languages, the site proved difficult to navigate.

Tenants who failed to appear in court faced default eviction judgments, but many tenants struggled to get to their first hearings due to lack of transportation, inability to take time off from work, or lack of childcare. Online court hearings also presented barriers, as they required tenants to have access to a stable internet connection and a computer or phone with video and sound.

Some tenants also faced barriers when trying to claim safe harbor. Eleven percent of eviction cases in which tenants claimed safe harbor involved a dispute about whether the tenant provided proof of an OERAP application. Tenants may also face eviction if their landlord does not receive an OERAP payment during the 60-to-90-day safe harbor period. Landlords are not required to delay the case further if they do not receive an OERAP payment by the end of the established timeframe.

Overall, and as noted above, 27% of tenants with non-payment-of-eviction cases were granted safe harbor during their first court hearing. As of the end of October 2021, 80% of safe harbor cases were still pending a final judgment. Seventy-five percent of the cases that were resolved resulted in landlord payment and case dismissal. Tenants were evicted in the other 25% of cases for not appearing at their second hearing or because their landlord had not received an OERAP payment by the second court date.

The report offers several recommendations on how to improve the safe harbor provision. Because ERA disbursal in Oregon is not keeping pace with the number of eviction cases, the authors recommend removing the time limit on the provision. The report also recommends a right to counsel for tenants to help mitigate the extreme power imbalance between landlords and tenants. Legal counsel can inform tenants of their rights, provide legal advice, and appear in court on behalf of tenants. The report further recommends that the state invest in more permanent infrastructure for eviction diversion and rental assistance and points to Philadelphia as an example of a city that has succeeded in adopting a multifaceted approach to eviction prevention.

Read the full report at: