Evictions in the Age of COVID-19

On March 22, Oregon Governor Kate Brown issued an executive order temporarily prohibiting law enforcement officers from acting on evictions as a result of nonpayment of rent. This followed the City of Portland and Multnomah County (which includes much of the Portland metro area), which enacted emergency moratoriums last week. The moratoria are specifically limited to residential leases and actions for nonpayment of rent. In other words, evictions for breach of other provisions of the lease not related to rent are not affected.

While the limits of the executive order are clear, matters are complicated by Oregon Supreme Court Chief Justice Martha Walters’ order last week to significantly limit court appearances until at least March 27 (but likely much longer). As a result, even eviction actions unrelated to rent are unlikely to progress for the immediate future. It would seem that residential tenants are, for the time being, safe to stay in their homes regardless of causes for eviction.

The outlook for commercial tenants is much less clear. Commercial tenancies are far more reliant on negotiated leases as compared to statutory and government protections, making it unlikely executive or court orders will be issued explicitly protecting commercial tenants. That being said, it seems likely that Chief Justice Walters’ court restrictions may have the same effect on commercial evictions.

Above all, however, it’s important to remember that these restrictions are a temporary play during the crisis. Rent is not being forgiven, and causes for eviction are not being ignored. So, as a warning to tenants: be wary of the temporary comfort, the buck still stops with you.

UPDATE: On April 1, Governor Brown issued an additional executive order extending the moratorium on evictions for nonpayment of rent until July 1. This executive order addressed commercial evictions as well, as discussed by my colleague Will Gent