Power Play 

Proposal by Springs lawmaker would eliminate eviction court hearings

Wendy Allen left home for a few hours one morning and came back to find that her landlord had removed all of her belongings from her house, placed them in the garage, and posted a notice saying Allen was evicted.

Allen says the eviction, sparked by a lease dispute, was illegal because it didn't follow the process required by Colorado law -- giving a three-day notice, and then seeking an eviction order from a county magistrate.

So Allen got legal help and challenged the action, allowing her to stay in her southeast Colorado Springs home until last week, when the matter went to court.

She ultimately lost, because the magistrate ruled that no official lease agreement had existed between the two parties -- even though Allen's landlord had cashed a rent check and given Allen keys to the house.

The case, Allen says, shows how few rights tenants have in Colorado, and how much power landlords have.

"At any point, you are subject to a landlord having a bad hair day," she said. "If you own property, you're basically God."

Kicking them out

But at least Allen had the opportunity to challenge the eviction in court.

Tenants wouldn't even have that, if a bill introduced by Rep. Bill Cadman, a Colorado Springs Republican, were to become state law.

In a proposal so far-reaching that even the Colorado landlords' lobby is questioning it, Cadman has written a bill that would enable landlords to evict tenants without going to court.

Local tenants-rights advocates have expressed shock over the proposal, labeled House Bill 1039, which was to go before the state Legislature's Committee on State, Veterans and Military Affairs on Thursday afternoon.

Attorney Steve Flynn of Colorado Legal Services, which often represents low-income tenants in court, says the bill eliminates the opportunity for tenants to challenge unjustified evictions.

"There's just no due process," Flynn said of the bill. "The landlord can just say, 'Rent is due,' and give a notice [to vacate the home]. Forty-eight hours later, they can just lock it and take possession of the tenant's property, and that's that."

Cadman, however, says tenants who are wronged can still sue for breach of contract.

"Nothing in here removes any of your right to due process," Cadman insisted.

Snooze and lose

Cadman says he decided to introduce the bill after listening to local landlords complain about how long it takes to evict tenants who aren't paying rent.

"They said, 'How come, if someone doesn't make payments, we've got to take them to court?'" Cadman recounted.

No other type of contract works that way, he says.

"Ford Motor Credit doesn't have to go to court to take your car back," Cadman pointed out. "If you stop paying for it, you lose it."

Under current law, a tenant who challenges an eviction can remain on the property for weeks, Cadman says. Though a landlord can usually get an eviction order within two weeks, it can take several weeks more before a sheriff's deputy is available to serve the order.

"This is insane," Cadman argued. "It's almost literally taking your property hostage -- and the onus is on you to go to court to get your property back."

But Flynn and others say Cadman wants to give more power to landlords in a state where the rules are already lopsided in their favor.

"Landlords almost always win," said Cyndy Kulp of the Colorado Springs-based Housing Advocacy Coalition, which is organizing opposition to Cadman's bill.

Flynn agreed.

"Colorado already has an extremely expedited process" for evictions, he said. Landlords "have got it good enough already. Why do they need to make it harder on the tenants?"

Is it constitutional?

Meanwhile, representatives from the state landlords' lobby, the Colorado Apartment Association, said they weren't sure they would support Cadman's proposal.

"I don't know if it's constitutional, what he's trying to do," said Jamie Glonek, the association's government affairs director. "There has to be some sort of due process [and] I think going to court is probably the only way to do it. You can't just kick somebody out and say, 'You violated this contract' -- that means the landlord is always right."

Glonek said the association would like to work with Cadman to propose changes that would expedite the eviction process by some other means.

Meanwhile, Allen and her teen-age son were planning to move to a homeless shelter Wednesday, where they'll stay while looking for a new home.

If the eviction process is expedited, more tenants than ever will live in "constant fear" of becoming homeless, Allen says. "No one should have to live like that."

-- Terje Langeland


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