Politics

Coronavirus has highlighted housing instability in Colorado

Before the coronavirus pandemic, and before the economic crisis that drove unemployment to historic levels, Colorado policymakers were already working on plans to balance power between landlords and tenants.

Back in 2019, what has been dubbed the “Year of the Tenant,” the list of Democratic-backed bills in State House has yet to materialize. A few new laws were passed to help tenants, but the bulk of the agenda stalled.

Now – after a year in which the state and federal government had to enact eviction freezes to prevent an unknown number of Colorado residents from ending up homeless – tenants’ advocates are starting from where they left off.

“Before COVID, people would pay more than half of their income for rent,” said Chesiah Guadarama Trejo, co-director of 9to5 Colorado. “What COVID has done is shining a light on just how vulnerable tenants are if they go without just one or two paychecks. I don’t think anyone ever imagined what would happen to weeks and weeks of unemployment.”

One of the main goals of the Working Women Advocacy Group is to reduce “predatory” late fees imposed on rent payments that cause tenants to be more late. Other efforts include limiting the rent increase to no more than once a year, giving tenants more time to make up for payments before the eviction begins, and changing court procedures so that tenants do not have to pay in order to file an unsafe home claim.

Legislation lifted before the pandemicAnd it was removed at a committee hearing last year, to ban property owners from charging late fees until the rent payment is at least 14 days late. The invoice could also have set late fees at $ 20 or as little as 3% of the rental amount.

The same Democratic lawmakers who managed the bill want to pass more comprehensive legislation this year, hoping that their fellow policymakers will be affected by the stories of eviction and homelessness that stem from the 2020 economic crisis.

A large rental sign on the corner of Dallas Street and E Montview Boulevard announces vacancies in an apartment block Jan.27 in Aurora, Colorado. (Catherine Scott, special for The Colorado Sun)

Legislation coming from Representative Serena Gonzalez Gutierrez and Senator. Julie Gonzalez, both Denver Democrats, will deal with daily late fees that some landlords add to the rent, and ban evictions on the basis of late fees only.

They also want to crack down on landlords who are illegally isolating people from their homes, and making it easier for tenants to seek help in court if they live in unsafe conditions, such as no heating or water, or if there are holes in their roof. . The bill, which has not yet been introduced, would remove the requirement in state law that tenants must present a bond in order to bring such a case.

Gonzalez Gutierrez, a former childcare specialist who once found kids living in a caravan with a mold on the ceiling and a large front door hole, has been working on tenant rights bills for the past two years. Legislation passed in 2020, along with Gonzales, Real estate owners are prohibited from requiring proof of immigration or citizenship status From the tenant.

Another successful bill, passed in 2019, Preventing landlords from charging exorbitant fees To submit an apartment rental request.

Gonzalez Gutierrez said the eviction halts and rental assistance programs passed during the pandemic are “bandaids,” while Colorado needs long-term changes to the law.

Serena Gonzalez Gutierrez, Denver

“We are actually among the lowest when it comes to tenant protection,” she said. “We see people a lot of times being evacuated because their dog barks very loudly. Or there is a grill on the front porch. This disproportionately affects communities of color and low-income communities.”

Under a tenant-related bill that has already introduced this legislative session, which began last week, landlords are required to provide 14 days notice instead of the currently required 10 days before the eviction proceedings begin.

House Bill 1121Dominic Jackson, of Representative, will also prohibit landlords from raising rent more than once a year.

The Colorado Apartment Association, which advocates for owners’ rights, opposes that the eviction process in the state actually takes two or three months, depending on the county. Drew Hamrick, the federation’s first vice president of government affairs, said legislation to extend the schedule would only make it more costly and unpredictable.

He said: “If we are to encourage people to provide housing for others, we must provide them with a reasonable mechanism to recover property,” noting that the association is in talks with the sponsors of the bill to reach a compromise.

Late fees charged on rental checks make it difficult to compensate

When Melissa Jones’ husband lost his job at a fish company last May, the couple in Denver struggled for a $ 1,075 rental check.

He was unemployed until September, when he found a part-time job at UPS at half-wages. Meanwhile, Colorado’s unemployment system has faltered. Like thousands of others, the couple has been locked out of the system and haven’t received a check for more than three months.

By the fall, Jones was behind on renting their one-bedroom apartment on the Denver and Aurora border. Per the rental agreement, they had to pay 15% late fees, plus a $ 50 “posting fee” to cover the cost of the notice pinned to their door. The penalty fee raised their rent to $ 1,286.

It was around the end of the month by the time they reached the money, and then the next month’s rent was due two days later.

The couple were able to get back on track when the state came in with unemployment benefits, including late wages for months skipped, but being left behind was stressful and frightening for Jones, who had previously been homeless.

“The thought of this instability scared me,” she said. “It makes me anxious.”

The eviction threat was so real because Jones’s 21-year-old daughter was evicted last year after she defaulted on rent and charged the homeowner $ 75 a day for every day the rent was late. Jones said she was 10 days late and owed $ 750 on top of her $ 900 rent.

Colorado says housing affordability is in crisis

Colorado, and later the federal government, imposed a moratorium on evictions during the coronavirus pandemic, but many are concerned about what happens when the moratorium is lifted. Policies do not forgive late rent.

governor. Jared Polis has also signed an order banning late-rent fees during the pandemic. His order to halt evictions, which he let expire at the end of December because there is now a federal order, required landlords to notify tenants of the stay in writing.

“It’s setting up some protection barriers to buy more time,” said Guadarrama Trejo of the nonprofit 9to5. Most of the tenants want to find a solution with the landlord. Nobody wants to become homeless, especially now. People will not live in the cold. And the epidemic continues. “

Guadarrama Trejo said that frontline workers in Colorado during the pandemic, and the people who work in grocery stores, delivery drivers and in restaurants, make up a large portion of renters in this state.

“The front line workers, these are the same hired people who are suffering,” she said.

Last spring, the legislature passed the Housing Assistance Bill, allowing Colorado tenants to seek help from the state fund. Colorado also received federal coronavirus aid to help tenants stay home. But this is also temporary.

In the run-up to the push for more tenant-friendly laws, three advocacy groups, including 9to5, helped develop a survey – by Strategies 360 commissioned by the State Innovation Exchange – that found overwhelming support for such policies.

State Senator Julie Gonzales, Denver

The poll of 501 voters in Colorado, accessed by phone earlier this month, found that 80% support determining how much landlords can charge in late fees and 70% support a maximum of 2.5% of gross rent. Most of those surveyed said that Coloradoans should not allow eviction on the basis of unpaid late fees only, as long as the tenant matches the base rent.

More than 80% of survey respondents said that housing affordability in Colorado has worsened in recent years, with 70% agreeing it is a serious problem or even a “crisis.”

This year’s legislative proposals are based on one of the laws passed in 2019, which is a law Residential Tenants Health and Safety ActIt strengthened the rights of tenants with regard to living conditions. It says that landlords violate the contract if they fail to provide healthy and safe housing, including any condition that “interferes with the tenant’s life, health or safety.”

Senator. Gonzales, who lives in an affordable housing unit, said it has been evident in the past few months that Colorado needs a “clear and transparent process,” a process that renters and landlords understand. I’ve heard from people who received eviction notices to appear in court, but didn’t go because they heard in the news that there was comment on evictions and didn’t realize there was paperwork involved.

She said the evictions are “economically destructive and destructive to family stability.” “We want to make the process a little fairer.

“Even in the midst of the pandemic, even with the federal moratorium, the fact that there are still people who are either at risk of eviction or moving in evacuation court illustrates the scale of the need.”

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