Oregon legislators have passed a bill that would prohibit landlords from rejecting prospective tenants based on prior convictions for minor marijuana convictions. The measure, Senate Bill 970, would also ban landlords from considering a housing applicant’s status as a medical marijuana patient when making rental decisions.
The bill was passed by the Oregon Senate on April 8 by a vote of 17-9 and then the state House of Representatives voted 36-21 to approve the measure on May 28, receiving little debate in both houses of the state legislature. SB 970 has since been referred to Gov. Kate Brown for her signature.
The major focus of SB 970 are measures that prohibit the operators of manufactured home parks and boat marinas from interfering with renters’ choice of real estate agents and places restrictions on subletting a rental unit that is up for sale. But the bill’s cannabis provisions apply to all rental properties in the state.
Landlords’ Group Opposes Bill
The provisions in SB 970 that ban using a rental applicant’s conviction for a minor cannabis offense or status as a medical marijuana patient were opposed by the Rental Housing Alliance Oregon, an industry group representing landlords statewide. Ron Garcia, the organization’s legislative chair, wrote in a letter to the Senate Housing Committee that the bill is unfair because it only applies to landlords and not others likely to perform background checks on applicants, such as employers.
“Asking the landlord, who must make decisions impacting an entire community of people, to ignore convictions others can consider is wrong and something we urge you not to do,” Garcia wrote.
City leaders in Portland are considering their own ordinance to make it easier for residents to obtain rental housing. A measure that would encourage landlords to be more forgiving of an applicant’s criminal record or credit history was proposed in March. Under the prospective ordinance, landlords could choose to use a streamlined approval process outlined by the city or their own system, which would be subject to additional mandated steps that would add time and cost to the process.
Expungement Bill Also Advances
Another bill pending before the Oregon legislature, Senate Bill 420, is headed for a final vote in the House this week. Under the bill, Oregon residents with prior convictions for cannabis offenses that are no longer illegal could have their convictions automatically reversed. Under the measure, the Oregon Department of Justice would be directed to identify old convictions and notify prosecutors for reversal. Sen. Lew Frederick, the sponsor of the bill, said that the process under an earlier measure that was passed to allow for the expungement of past convictions “is both long and costly.”
“We have a number of people who have convictions now of possession of a controlled substance—possession of marijuana—where if they were now carrying the same amount or selling the same amount, or it was in their home, it would not be even considered as a crime,” Frederick said. “And they are then struggling with housing and education and jobs, et cetera, because of that.”
Frederick told local media that he didn’t ask for the measure to be numbered SB 420.
“I wish I could say I was that prescient, but it was totally a coincidence,” Frederick said. “It’s perhaps a nice omen.”