COVID-19 Delays The Coalition and Impacts the 2021 Legislative Session.

The pandemic has affected every aspect of our lives and our legislative process has also been significantly impacted. In a typical legislative cycle, we prepare for the Oregon 2021 Legislative Session by participating in the Manufactured Housing and Marina Landlord-Tenant Coalition (“The Coalition”) from 2019 to 2021.  Delays due to this crisis have further slowed our process which is, during normal times, considered a slow and patient path towards improved legislation.

It took 2 years for The Coalition to negotiate our last piece of legislation that passed into law in 2019.  To read more about the process and timeline of a Coalition bill, check out our blog post “It Take Time to Change State Laws” by clicking here.

Our 2021 Legislative Session work began in 2019

The Coalition worked hard in 2017 – 2019 to pass a ginormous 70-page piece of legislation (Senate Bill 586) covering a number of topics to help protect park and marina tenants.  We took our typical post-legislative session break and then reconvened in the Fall of 2019.

October 30 – Introduction of Potential Issues

For the October meeting in Eugene, we recapped the journey of SB 586 and set about sharing topics we’d like to address for the 2021 Legislative Session. The meeting was an open forum and many ideas and topics were shared between landlords and tenants about which issues were most important for them.

November 12 – Review of Potential Issues

Our November meeting in Salem, The Coalition reviewed some of the issues that were introduced in the October meeting.  From the both the landlord and tenant side, we considered the following potential issues to work on:

  1. Fixes to SB 586 – there were a few things from the bill that were rushed at the end and some Coalition participants didn’t feel that the language accurately reflected what was agreed upon in 2019
  2. Revisions to SB 608 – In 2019, a piece of rent stabilization legislation passed (that had nothing to do with out bill) but did affect park and marian tenants in that it established a rent cap.  This caused several issues that you can read about in more detail by clicking here
  3. Systems Development Charges – making it easier to develop new parks, upgrade parks, or expand them
  4. Alleviate the Problem of Corporate Investment Companies Purchaing Parks and Marinas and Driving up Rents
  5. Set-Backs requirements in Parks – packing in homes tightly
  6. Allow Landlords to Deduct Noncompliance Fees from Rent
  7. Marina Issues Which Did Not Get Address in 2019
  8. More Treee Issues
  9. More Submetering Issues
  10. Requiring Rental Agreements to be in the Same Language as the Tenant Speaks
  11. Waterline Resonsibility
  12. Using Manufactured Parks to Ease Homelessness Burden
  13. Pet Insurance
  14. Right of First Refusal for Tenants When Landlord is Selling Park or Marina
  15. Stronger Penalites for Landlords who Do Not Comply with The Opportunity to Purchase Statutes
  16. More Effective Ways to Address Bad Park or Marina Managers
  17. The Problem That 5-Year Rent History Does Not Apply to New Parks/Marinas
  18. Proof of Manager Education Compliance
  19. Unilateral Amendment of Lease Process
  20. Clarify differences between Rental Agreements and Rules
  21. Clarify which sections in ORS 90.505 et seq. apply to both MH parks and FH marinas and which only to parks
  22. Re-organize the submeter statutes
  23. Move ORS 446.515 to .547 and 446.380 to .392 into ORS 90.505 et seq.

There definitely was no shortage of ideas to discuss for the 2021 Legislative Session.

December 10

We picked 3 topics that seemed to have some high interest to discuss at the December 10th meeting in Tigard.

  • Trees – issue # 8 from the list above
  • Noncompliance fees – issue # 6 from the list above
  • Marina Habitability – issue # 7 from the list above

As for the Marina Issues discussion, the marina landlord leadership was going to be on vacation until from December through April and asked to table the marina issues discussion with the Coalition until April 2020.

Our 2021 Legislative Session Discussions Continued to 2020

January 21

At the January meeting in Tigard, we further discussed the following issues.

  • Trees – issue # 8 from the list above
  • Noncompliance fees – issue # 6 from the list above
  • SB 608 – issue # 2 from the list above

February 18

At our February meeting in Salem, a report was given on discussions between the Heritage Village Neighbors Organization and Cal Am representatives regarding the situation that prompted the Tree Issue on our list, and we discussed the following potential issues for legislative solutions.

  • SB 608 – continue discussion
  • Noncompliance fees – should we allow deduction from rent payments?
  • Review the new mandatory mediation thing – Compare SB 586’s language with what we agreed to. How’s it working? Problems?

The Coaltion landlords indicated that they had no interest or intention of discussing possible changes to SB 608 – the rent cap stabilization law that currently allows park and marina landlords to increase rent annually by nearly 10% as well as the ability to set rent as high as they wish – above the caps – for new tenants when an existing tenant is selling their home om place.  This had been a tenant-raised issue and hearing that landlords would refuse to attempt any negotiating on this issue was a deep blow to tenants impacted by high rent increases over the last year, many of whom have already lost their homes due to such high increases.

Similarly, landlords indicated – although their interest seemed to fade – that they wanted to discuss noncompliance fees and amending the law to allow them to deduct those from rent payments. Tenants were not supportive of changes to this statute because it would likely result in adding another way for landlords to terminate tenants for minor rule violations.

Tenants indicated that they were unwilling to discuss the noncompliance fee issue without also discussing the SB 608 issues.

The tree issue seems to be resolved, at least for now. We were now tasked with coming up with new issues to work through that both landlords and tenants had interest in pursuing.

On March 15, 2020, Governor Issues Sheltering Orders

March 17

Our March meeting in Tigard was cancelled and we decided not to host it virtually since everyone was scrambling to adjhust to the sheltering orders.

Landlords Thwart Coalition Progress Until Fall 2020

April 17

Our April meeting was held virtually. At this point, we had not identified any issues we all agreed that we wanted to work on for a possible 2021 coalition bill. Unfortunately, landlords came to the table and indicated that they are busy addressing the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic on their parks. The landlords seemed uninterested in negotiating anything significant for the 2021 legislative session and asked to touch base in August to see if the landlords would be interested in reconvening The Coalition sometime in the the Fall.

Oregon Wildfires Devastate Parks

As if the ongoing pandemic wasn’t enough for tenants and landlords to deal with, we also suffered from the destructive forces of wildfires which hit 1800+ park residents especially hard.  We did not meet in September because both park tenants and landlords were busy trying to sort out the damages from the fires.

Reconvening The Coaltion Fall 2020

October 14

The Coalition co-facilitators decided to resume meeting virtually in October, however, we had not reached any agreement on any issues to consider tackling for the 2021 Legislative Session. Tenants went back to the original issues lists and explored various topics.

Tenants proposed the following topics for consideration:

  1. Natural disasters like the recent Almeda wildfires, where a park is all or mostly destroyed: What should be the rights and responsibilities of the parties? Duty to clean up the space/remove debris. Rent and deposits. Re-entry to the park. Insurance. Is there a tenancy. What about if/after the park is rebuilt. Others.
  2. SB 586 (2019) review/fixes: SB 586 included major changes to utility billing, mediation, marina tenancies, and mediation. Did Legislative Counsel get our agreements right? How are the new laws working?
  3. ORS 90.730 (3) (c): The landlord should be responsible for maintaining the water/sewer lines within the space up to the connection to the home.
  4. Amend the Opportunity to Purchase laws: Clarify and increase the penalty for landlord violations; slightly longer periods for the tenants to respond (currently 10 and 15 days); and “refresh” the notice requirement for a landlord seeking to sell if, after giving such a notice previously, significant times passes.
  5. Mandatory education: This requirement currently applies to on-site management; if there is more than one on-site manager, require them all to attend training.
  6. Marina issues: Safety requirements for common areas that differ from parks (docks, walkways, ladders out of the river), common area parking, recreational boat slips as part of the tenancy.

The landlords came to the meeting without any issues. Generally, the landlords appeared to incorrectly take the position that Oregon Landlord-Tenant law, the Oregon Legislature, and the work we do in The Coalition all favors tenants and places landlords at a major disadvantage.  However, this is simply not true as any tenant can attest.

After the landlords stated unequivocally that they would not consider negotiating with us in The Coalition on anything dealing with SB 608 back in the Spring, OSTA discussed the option to separately pursue changes to Senate Bill 608 (outside of The Coalition) to try to protect tenants from nearly 10% annual rent increases and the major issues with a landlords’ ability to extract value out of a tenant’s home via rent reset that was allowed under SB 608 when a park or marina home changes ownership.

However, at this Coalition meeting, the landlords showed how much power they actually have by weilding it to threaten OSTA and legislative progress that, if OSTA dared pursue changes to SB 608, then the landlords would terminate The Coalition for the 2021 Legislative Session, thus ending a 20 year history of making positive legislative changes for both sides.

This left OSTA in a predicament. If we pursue risky legislation surrounding an unpopular rent-stabilization bill to help tenants then we could forever close the door on The Coalition process that has given our members so many good protection over the years.

November 17

It is easier to pass legislation with Coalition support than without. OSTA had taken a vote to pursue working with The Coalition for the 2021 Legislative session because it isn’t even clear that Oregon will have a legislative session open to the idea of ANY non-budget-related issues due to the pandemic – even the possibility of a Coalition bill getting a hearing in 2021 is in doubt.  We did not feel that this was the year to throw 20-years of history-making legislative process away in favor of pursuing what would be a highly unpopular bill among landlords across the state that have deep pockets.  The discussion about improvements to SB 608 may be halted for now, but the topic won’t remain on the backburner forever.

Tenants came to the November meeting hoping to discuss possible legislation that would address the rights and responsibilities when a facility is destroyed (wildfire/flood/earthquake/wind), as well as rethinking responsibility for maintaining utility lines (water and sewer) within the space up to the connection to the home.

The landlords came with quite a list:

  1. Establishing an end-date for waivers
  2. Update and clarify the Adondonment Statute – and also remove waiver here as well
  3. Allow new rental/lease agreements on turnover of park or marina ownership
  4. Make it easier to evict squatters
  5. Clarify how long the rent increase is required by the submetering statute
  6. Allow landlords to make it easy to completely overhaul all rules at a park or marina
  7. Modification of ORS 105.146 to clarify that future payment of nonrent items (i.e. pass through utilities) can be included in stipulated agreements
  8. Extending the 6 month payment window to 12 months and dealing with more than 3 months worth of future rent (up to 12) (even if this is temporary to deal with COVID debts)
  9. Amending ORS 90.767 to clarify that the mediation process is for single tenant issues (or issues between a few tenants) and possibly removing 90.767(1)(c). The process in ORS 90.600(9) regarding a tenant’s committee should deal with rules or park wide issues

From this list, they chose 2 issues they would like to focus on:

  1. Landlords would like the be able to unilaterally replace Rental Agreement, Statements of Policy, and Rules when a new owner takes control of the park or marina.
  2. Landlords would like to be able to replace all existing rules and regulations with an entirely new set of rules and not follow the current “cumbersome” process required by ORS of summarizing rules changes for tenants to vote on.

Obviously, these would be very serious changes that could negatively impact tenants in critical ways.

In order to try to move more swiftly during negotiations, The Coalition established a Subcommittee to discuss the landlord topic of replacing entire rental agreements upon change of facility ownership (issue #1 above).  Those members are Phil Querin and Charlie Greeff (both attorneys) for the landlords and John Vanlandingham (attorney), Rita Loberger (OSTA President and park resident), and Angela Garvin (OSTA Director and marina resident) for the tenants.

December 15

The December Coalition meting was cancelled, but the Rule Replacement Subcommittee met and discussed the topic of allowing new park and marina owners to unilaterally replace rental agreements for tenants.  Chuck Carpenter of MHCO (the landlord group) also participated.  The landlords offered reasons as to why they would like to see the statute changed.  First, current management sometimes does not keep good records and, therefore, it places new owners at a disadvantage when considering whether or not to purchase a facility when there are no agreements with tenants in the files.  Second, some agreements are outdated because landlords have not kept up with the process of updating them and landlords find it too cumbersome to replace multiple outdated rules one-by-one.

In summary, the landlords are concerned with the way non-existent or outdated agreements reflects on the purchase price they might receive from a potential park or marina purchaser, and conversely, concerned about the new owners’ ability to manage the parks and marinas under their own terms after purchase regardless of what agreement the tenant has in place at the time of purchase.

A possible solution to the landlords’ issue was suggested from the tenant side that both landlords and tenants together work with the Oregon State Office of Housing and Communities Services to develop a basic rental agreement (which favored neither tenants nor landlords) that a landlord could use in precisely those situations.  However, the landlords absolutely rejected this solution. Landlords did not agree with the idea that a basic rental agreement (drafted with input from the state office, tenants and landlords) would meet their needs and achieve their goals.  This left the tenant members skeptical and wondering, “If landlords have no interest in co-creating a basic and fair rental agreement that all landlords could use when a rental agreement doesn’t exist or is extremely outdated, then what is it that landlords really want from this legislative change?”

The meeting ended early as it seemed that neither party was willing to give up the rights of their members.

It will be interesting to see where we go from here in January 2021.