As spring term approaches, many students will begin signing leases for off-campus housing. If they find themselves unsure about what rights they have as tenants, one option is to visit the Associated Students of Oregon State University Student Legal Services.
At Student Legal Services, legal advising is offered, where students can get questions regarding their rights answered. In some circumstances, Student Legal Services can also provide limited representation for landlord and tenant disputes.
One question students may be wondering about as they move into their new housing is under what circumstances they may be evicted.
According to Marc Friedman, an attorney and the executive director of ASOSU legal services, the most common reason for eviction is a failure to pay rent. Oregon law gives tenants seven days past the due date to make their payment. This is cause for an expedited eviction, in which tenants can be asked to move out with 72 hours notice. However, tenants have the right to immediately settle the issue by paying rent.
According to Friedman, if a student is in a month-to-month tenancy then they can be presented with a no-cause eviction with either 30 days notice or 60 days depending on how long they’ve lived there. However, new laws in Oregon will soon change this process, making it more difficult for landlords to evict tenants with no cause.
As far as what students should expect from their living space, Friedman said that landlords must ensure that the living space is clean and safe.
“First and foremost, they are entitled to live in a habitable dwelling,” Friedman said.
Oregon has habitability laws, and the city of Corvallis also has its own livability code. Both of these can be accessed online. According to Friedman, habitability requirements include but are not limited to sanitation, heat, locking doors and a space free of pest infestation and mold.
Tenants also have a right to a certain expectation of privacy. According to Friedman, a landlord is required to give 24 hours of notice before entering a tenant’s home. They are also not allowed to continuously enter after that first notice.
“If a week or two later they say I need to come back again, there’s not a hard and fast rule but there’s a point where that becomes unreasonable,” Friedman said.
Friedman commonly sees issues relating to security deposits, usually in regards to them being withheld for unjust reasons or not being returned within the 31 day limit of the tenant vacating.
According to Friedman, the best way for a tenant to ensure that they receive their deposit back is by carefully documenting the condition of the apartment at the time they move in. Friedman said that a reputable property management company will generally provide a checklist for tenants to mark off damages existing at the time of move in. However, they can effectively document the condition on their own by taking pictures and having them on record with the landlord.
According to Friedman, it becomes much more difficult to receive a withheld security deposit without this evidence.
“If we have good documentation of the condition, it is much easier for us to fight those battles,” Friedman said.
First time tenants may be confused on what to expect from their landlords if something happens to break in their unit. According to Friedman, it is critical to immediately notify the landlord. Once the tenant has contacted the landlord, they should receive a response within 48 to 72 hours at the latest.
“If the tenant has made the complaint and the landlord is nonresponsive, they would want to come in and talk with us about the next steps,” Friedman said.
Friedman said that a non-responsive landlord as well as critical habitability issues may lead to a tenant being able to terminate their lease early.
According to Friedman, a landlord is legally not allowed to take retaliatory action against a tenant for their actions. Yet, what counts as retaliatory conduct can be difficult to define and to prove.
“Say you complained about your shower, and the landlord fixes the shower and turns around and gives you an eviction notice. That’s a little suspicious. So that could potentially be an example of retaliatory conduct,” Friedman said.
Retaliatory conduct is another situation in which tenants will have an easier time proving it has occurred if they have documented interactions.
Before renting a unit, Friedman suggests that students meet with ASOSU legal services.
“We would encourage anyone before they sign the lease, if they’ve got any questions at all, or if they’re just unsure, they can always meet with us and have us review the lease so we can explain what they’re getting into,” Friedman said.