Landlord-tenant dispute mediation pilot program to launch in Portland soon
It is a difficult time for tenants who have been financially battered by the COVID-19 pandemic. After a year of moratoriums protecting tenants from losing their homes due to inability to pay rent, people began being evicted from their homes in Oregon this summer. Oregon’s statewide eviction moratorium expired on June 30 and an attempt by Pres. Biden to extend a federal moratorium was shot down by the United States Supreme Court in August.
However, there are still local protections for tenants in Oregon.
Shortly after the statewide moratorium ended, Multnomah County voted to allow a 90-day break on evictions for anyone who applied for federal rent assistance. In much of the state, a 60-day break is available. This program is also quickly approaching a deadline: the US Treasury says local governments have until the end of September to distribute two-thirds of this money, but the process has been slow and cumbersome. As of mid-month, Oregon had only distributed 21% of that money.
It is not clear what will happen to these relief dollars on October 1. After September 30, the US Treasury is allowed to resume funds that have been allocated to states, but it is not required to do so. Oregon Housing and Community Services Director Margaret Salazar said she does not believe the US Treasury will claw back funding from Oregon, but the future remains uncertain.
There are still several local efforts to help match tenants with assistance. This week, Multnomah County launched an SMS campaign to alert 380,000 residents of available assistance options. And lawyers at the Oregon Law Center have launched the Eviction Defense Project, a statewide effort to provide tenants facing eviction with legal representation and resources.
In Portland, a new pilot program will aim to help tenants resolve disputes with their landlords before going to eviction court. The city is working with the nonprofit Resolutions Northwest to establish its new free landlord-tenant mediation program. It was approved by Portland City Council in April to pay professional mediators and in some cases provide rent assistance.
Erion Moore is the Director of Mediation at Resolutions Northwest. He said that often conflicts between landlords and tenants escalate before other options have been considered.
“And as we know,” Moore said, “in general conflicts sometimes people don’t talk about it until it blows up.”
He said that in rent disputes, people are often reluctant to discuss financial issues: tenants are often reluctant to admit that they just don’t have the money to pay.
Moore said the pilot program offers both coaching and professional mediation to help bridge the communication gap when tenants have to pay rent.
“Sometimes we encourage them to say, ‘What’s a good result? What is the best solution ?’ and sometimes people surprise themselves, ”he said.
Many homeowners also want to avoid an expensive and time-consuming eviction process, he said.
“A lot of people think homeowners are just ready to go to court,” Moore said. “But it’s often the last thing they want to do.”
The mediator will speak with each person individually, then bring the two together to facilitate a discussion if they both agree. The process is confidential, which means that information from mediation cannot be used in court.
“It allows the owner and the tenant to be creative,” Moore said. “They don’t have to worry about someone going to court and saying ‘hey, we haven’t fixed the problem, but that’s what this person has already agreed to. “”
Tenants should not wait to mediate until a formal eviction is filed against them, or until they have applied for rental assistance programs. “
While the program focuses on rent disputes, it is not limited to money disputes – Moore said the pilot program is available to mediate disputes over animal odors, parking spaces or any other conflict between tenants and their landlords.
Northwest Resolutions’ Landlord-Tenant Mediation Pilot Project is just beginning; they have not yet organized successful mediations. In the pilot phase, they hope to serve 100 tenants in Portland – a slice of residents who are currently behind on rent. Statewide data shows that more than 12,000 residents of Multnomah County have applied for rent assistance or utility assistance. This summer, a Portland State University study estimated that more than 125,000 Oregonians were at risk of deportation.
When the program was approved by Portland City Council in April, Commissioner Jo Ann Hardesty remained cautious about the impact the program could have on the scale of the need for rent assistance.
“I don’t want to over-promise a pilot project like this, knowing the scale of the needs there,” she said.
But Moore said he hoped a successful pilot could be a proof of concept for tenant-landlord mediation to expand; first locally, and finally, statewide.
“What we hope for,” he said. “Can we be the pilot program in the state to show that if landlords and tenants are really having a conversation with an outside mediator, they can keep people in their homes.” Because that’s the goal of the program: to keep people in their homes.
Portland residents who wish to participate in the Landlord-Tenant Mediation Pilot Project can contact Resolutions Northwest by calling 503-595-4850 or sending an email. [email protected].
Oregon residents facing eviction can also find out if they are eligible for emergency rent assistance by visiting the site. state site or by dialing 211 to speak to someone about the available options.
Those who have received an eviction notice are encouraged to contact the Oregon Eviction Defense Project for free legal assistance by calling (888) 585-9638 or sending an email. [email protected]. Tenants must leave a message on the reception line or by e-mail with their name, date of birth and eviction file number.
Listen to Erion Moore’s conversation with OPB’s John Notarianni using the audio player above