Property Crimes - A Story Against SB 91

The Oregon Senate is considering Bill SB 91 (see below) that would not allow property owners or property managers to take into consideration a person's previous criminal convictions if they are only related to property crimes.  The following story, while anecdotal, serves to illustrate the point of why it is crucial to be able to consider previous property crime convictions.

About eight years ago I received a phone call in the middle of the night from a tenant in a fourplex I had just started managing.  There was a fire and I needed to come over right away.  When I arrived, the fire department had put out the fire and were starting to clean up.  The fire had gutted over half of the fourplex and destroyed almost all the possessions of the tenant living over the unit where the fire had started.

In talking with the fire department, we discovered the fire started in a wastebasket in the living room.  The cause of the fire was a cigarette that had dropped in a trash can when the person holding the lit cigarette fell asleep and it slipped from his fingers. 

The problem here was not the fire (although that was a several hundred thousand dollar problem) but the person who caused the fire was not a tenant.  In fact the former tenants had just been evicted that day for non payment of rent and tagging. The person who started the fire was a friend of theirs who they said could stay over night.  Fortunately no one was killed or seriously hurt, but the tenant upstairs said he never heard the fire alarm (it could have been disabled by the former tenants) and barely got out in time.

There are obviously other issues involved here that we could talk about, but the point is that people who don't respect other people's property can have a direct and sometimes devastating impact on the surrounding community.  Being able to evaluate potential tenants for previous property crimes is important not only for the property owner, but for the entire community.

Below is the section of SB 91 this discussion is addressing.  Parts of this section are sufficiently vague that they would most likely  require litigation to parse where the distinction between personal and property crimes begin and end.  Litigation is expensive, time consuming and messy. It would do little to resolve the issue this legislation is trying to address and add to the cost of affordable housing in the form of higher rents and/or security deposits.

SECTION TWO.

(1)   A landlord may not consider an action for possession pursuant to ORS 105.105 to 105.168 in evaluating an applicant if:

a.      The action was dismissed or resulted in general judgment for the applicant prior to the application. This subsection does not apply if the prior action has not resulted in a dismissal or general judgment at the time of the application.

b.      The action resulted in general judgment against the applicant, if such judgment was entered 5 or more years prior to the application.

(2)   A landlord may not consider arrest history in evaluating an applicant, where the arrest did not result in a conviction. This subsection does not apply if the arrest has resulted in charges for criminal behavior as defined by subsection (3) of this section that have not been dismissed at the time of the application.

 (3) A landlord may only consider criminal conviction and charging history in evaluating an applicant if the conviction or pending charge is for criminal behavior that is:

(a) A drug related crime;

            (b) A person crime;

            (c) A sex offense; or

(d) Any other crime, if the nature of the criminal conduct for which the applicant was convicted would adversely affect the landlord or other tenants’ property, or the health, safety, or right to peaceful enjoyment of the premises by other residents, the landlord or the landlord’s agent.