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Impending roll-out of new legislation could change landscape for renters 

Housing Laws

click to enlarge Renting a studio at 333 ECO Apartments downtown costs $1,160 to $1,310 a month. - FAITH MILLER
  • Faith Miller
  • Renting a studio at 333 ECO Apartments downtown costs $1,160 to $1,310 a month.

For renters’ advocates, 2019 brought home significant victories at the Colorado State Capitol.

While one key priority (local rent control) proved too controversial to make the cut this year, the Democrat-controlled Legislature passed plenty of others — limiting application fees, changing the terms under which a residence becomes “uninhabitable” and extending the deadline for paying rent before eviction proceedings begin.

They’re all changes that apartment industry groups fear will cause headaches for landlords. But supporters believe the changes are needed to help renters, who have faced unfair disadvantages. The bills come at a time when affordable rentals are as rare as hen’s teeth — and legislators are feeling pressure to help families struggling to pay the bills. Here’s a look at how the bills work.

Low-income families in the Colorado Springs area often struggle to find housing at a price point they can afford — especially when they have an eviction on their record, says Mary Stegner, the executive director of local nonprofit Partners in Housing.

“Sometimes they’ll have enough money to pay the rent, and their credit score might be fine, [but] that eviction is really an issue,” Stegner says.

Partners in Housing provides one-year transitional housing for families so they can establish a rental history, and helps connect them with landlords so a past eviction doesn’t lead to an immediate denial.

House Bill 1106, which takes effect in August, could also help level the playing field for prospective renters with troubled pasts. The law prohibits landlords from considering rental or credit history that’s more than seven years old. It also requires that criminal background checks go back no further than five years, with the exception of certain crimes like methamphetamine distribution and sexual assault.

But some industry groups took issue with another part of that law, which requires landlords to prove that the entire amount of any application fee is used to cover the expenses of processing a background check — and prohibits them from charging different application fees to two people hoping to rent the same apartment.

Laura Nelson, the executive director of the Apartment Association of Southern Colorado, worries those restrictions will cause problems for landlords who have to run background checks on tenants from other states, which can be more expensive.

She adds that another part of the law, which requires landlords to disclose rental criteria up front, is something that “professional landlords, at least in Colorado Springs, I know have always done — because you don’t want to take the time to run all this information and process an application when somebody’s not going to qualify anyway.”

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The idea for that bill came after advocacy organization 9to5 Colorado surveyed renters in the Denver metro area, focusing on communities of color and those at risk of being pushed out by development, according to co-director Andrea Chiriboga-Flor.

The Residential Tenants Health & Safety Act, also passed this year, was another idea that came from the survey.

“Over 50 percent of respondents said that they had lived with maintenance issues for extended periods of time,” Chiriboga-Flor says. “We were really surprised to see how frequently that was reported, and [high] application fees as well.”

“That really triggered us to really get into renters’ rights and kind of see what was going on,” she adds, “and we quickly realized that we have a pretty significant lack of renters’ rights in Colorado.” 

Last year, apartment search website RENTCafe ranked Colorado No. 43 in the nation in renters’ protections. Among other factors, the analysis cited the state’s lack of a statute allowing renters to deduct repair costs from rent.  

The Residential Tenants Health & Safety Act, which went into effect May 20, addressed that and made several other changes to state law that shift power from landlords to tenants.

The new law adds mold and nonfunctioning appliances to the list of conditions that can make a property “uninhabitable” under state law, and speeds up the timeline for landlords to address those and other health and safety issues. Under certain conditions, tenants can deduct repair costs from rent payments.

The Apartment Association opposed the bill over fears that renters could take unfair advantage of landlords, and pointed out that health and safety issues are already covered in city code.

“Worst case scenario, you could have somebody break their microwave, or break their air conditioner, and withhold their rent if you don’t fix it,” Nelson says. “...There’s good and bad tenants, just like anything else.”

For Griffis/Blessing, the largest apartment management company in Colorado Springs, the new laws don’t pose too much of a challenge, says Carmen Azzopardi, vice president of multifamily property services.

“If for some reason [a tenant’s] refrigerator went out, we could get a new one and deliver it to them and put into their apartment by the next day,” Azzopardi says. “I think that law is geared more towards the landlords that let things sit and don’t want to fix them.”

But some of the other laws require administrative changes that mean changes to procedures and paperwork. For example, Griffis/Blessing was formerly charging a $35 application fee and will now charge $20, with just $1 allocated for staff time, Azzopardi says.

A third law that proved controversial — “Time Period to Cure Lease Violation” — increases the “right to cure” period between the day rent is due and the day eviction proceedings start, from three to 10 days.

As for that new law, Azzopardi says Griffis/Blessing is “taking it positively,” and hopes the extra time really does what it’s intended to: Help residents pay rent before they get evicted.

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