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Democratic lawmakers try again for eviction protection law in Colorado

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by Sara Wilson, Colorado Newsline
January 25, 2024

When Monique Gant asked her Westminster landlord in 2022 for documents she needed for a rental assistance application, she said the landlord’s family members began attacking her, threatening her and calling her a racial slur.

After she filed a complaint with the attorney general’s office, she said, she received a notice of non-renewal for her lease without an explanation of why she was getting shut out from her housing. She then took the matter to court with the help of a nonprofit.

“We wanted to fight, as we felt that we were being retaliated against,” she said during emotional remarks at the Colorado Capitol on Wednesday. “The judge sided with the landlord, stating that they have the right to not renew our lease and evict us without giving a reason.”

Gant and her family have until the end of the month to leave the property.

“My children and I have built our lives and our community in Westminster, and were it not for the generosity of a friend, we would be out in the cold, sleeping on the streets while we try to save (for a new apartment),” she said.

For the second time, Democratic lawmakers are running a housing policy that would prevent landlords from evicting tenants in cases like Gant’s, where the tenant has not broken any part of the lease contract.

“There is a loophole existing right now in Colorado that genuinely allows for various forms of discrimination. That is what we’re seeing in different forms,” said Sen. Nick Hinrichsen, a Pueblo Democrat, who is one of four lawmakers running the bill.

Known as a “for cause” or “just cause” bill, it would aim to increase housing stability by making it more difficult for landlords to evict tenants. These laws define specific reasons a landlord can pursue eviction, including failure to pay rent, destruction of property or substantial lease violations.

That means a landlord couldn’t evict a tenant if they continually raise issues about poor conditions, for example, or if the landlord simply wants to rent to a different tenant.

“A for-cause eviction law would clearly define in state law when and why a landlord can evict tenants. This will stabilize renters and prevent unnecessary displacement, discrimination and retaliatory evictions,” Rep. Javier Mabrey, a Denver Democrat, said.

The bill would also define when a landlord can pursue a “no-fault” eviction of a resident. That includes demolition of the building, plans for substantial repairs, intention of the owner or a family member to move into the unit, or plans to put the building on the market.

Landlords would need to provide a 90-day notice to a tenant before proceeding with an eviction.

The bill is sponsored by Mabrey, House Majority Leader Monica Duran of Wheat Ridge, Sen. Julie Gonzales of Denver and Hinrichsen. Duran, who is taking over sponsorship from former representative and current Denver City Council member Serena Gonzales-Gutierrez, shared her own eviction experience after leaving an abusive partner.

“My son and I were homeless, and our possessions were thrown out as if they were trash on the curb of the street. Unnecessary evictions perpetuate the cycle of abuse. It stands in the way of parents from providing the stable upbringing that their children need to learn, grow and thrive,” she said. “No mother and child should repeatedly endure this kind of anxiety and stress.”

2019 study found that cities that have implemented just cause eviction laws experience lower rates of evictions and eviction filings. New Jersey, California, New Hampshire, Oregon and Washington, as well as a smattering of large cities, have for cause eviction laws on the books. Last year, the White House included the policy in its suggestions for a so-called Renters Bill of Rights.

A different approach in 2024

Last year’s iteration of the bill made it through the House but languished in the Senate without enough support and died on the calendar. As soon as that happened, Mabrey vowed to bring it back this year for debate. This year’s version is narrower in scope and includes some amendments or suggestions from last year’s critics.

That includes requiring landlords to provide relocation assistance equal to two months’ rent to tenants only if they fail to provide adequate notice, versus requiring relocation assistance to tenants in all no-fault eviction cases.

Sponsors also took out a provision from last year that would have required landlords to offer tenants in good standing a “substantially similar” lease with only a “reasonable” increase in rent when it expires. This time, that provision applies to tenants who leave a unit so the landlord can do major renovations and want to return.

There is also an exemption for landlords who rent out part of a property at which they also live.

“We worked very hard over the past several months with stakeholders and other legislators to incorporate some of the changes that, quite frankly, Republicans were asking for last year,” Mabrey said.

This year’s bill has the support of House Speaker Julie McCluskie, a Dillon Democrat who voted against it last year. McCluskie said she joined Mabrey, an eviction attorney, in eviction court during the interim and learned firsthand about the “hardship and economic instability that follows eviction.” McCluskie’s support, and the fanfare for the bill’s rollout, could be a positive bellwether for the bill’s prospects in the Legislature.

“I know that everybody here and the vast majority of my colleagues — and the governor — want to prevent unnecessary evictions and save Colorado families money. The legislation we are introducing today does just that,” Mabrey said. “This is clearly the right thing to do and I believe we can get it done this year.”

In a question about the policy idea earlier this month, Gov. Jared Polis, a Democrat, did not say whether he would sign the bill should it land on his desk.

“Obviously we’re always happy to hear from legislators about ideas to save people money. Our viewpoint is that I will be supportive of measures that reduce the cost of housing,” he told reporters. “I will be skeptical of anything that adds cost to housing. So we’re happy to evaluate any bill in that context.”

Last year, opponents contended that a for-cause eviction law would push landlords out of the rental market and would impede on their private property rights, essentially forcing them into an endless lease with tenants who might be causing problems in the community.

“Imagine you have a situation where you know, but can’t prove, that somebody in the community is creating unreasonable disturbances. You know from late-night traffic that somebody is dealing drugs, but no charges have been brought. Right now, an attorney tells us housing providers, ‘You know, the lease is going to end in three months. Just wait this out.’ That’s a reasonable thing for a housing provider to do. Nobody’s contractual expectation should be that they’re guaranteed to live there forever,” said Drew Hamrick, senior vice president of government affairs for the Apartment Association of Metro Denver.

But for supporters, the for-cause bill is a simple premise that would support the state’s goals as it faces an housing and affordability crisis.

“We’re not reinventing the wheel. This is not a crazy idea,” said Melissa Mejía, the head of state and local policy at the Community Economic Defense Project. “It’s a really basic thing: We cannot keep building but not allow people to stay in the homes that they are already living in.”

The bill’s first hurdle will be a hearing in the House Transportation, Housing and Local Government Committee.

This story is republished from Colorado Newsline under a Creative Commons license. Read the original story.