Democratic-backed tenant bills improve eviction protections
A landlord like Page Pulver and a tenant like Trudy Carra-deSalero are at the center of Colorado lawmakers’ debate over renters’ rights.
The Coffman House, a 46-unit rooming house in downtown Longmont, is owned by Pulver. In the 1930s, the property served as a hospital built in 1902 by Dickens’ grandson, and she has poured hundreds of thousands of dollars into it.
Residents range in age from 18 to 70, including college students, nurses, and retired professors. She said Pulver hasn’t raised the rent in four years, and a studio apartment tops out at $975 a month – below metro Denver’s median.
As she put it, “We take risks on people who may not be able to find housing elsewhere.”.
Carra-deSalero told lawyers Wednesday that she has been evicted twice from units she rented because the owner refused to renew her lease. Her relocation costs totaled more than $6,000, including movers, application fees, and deposits.
She was neglected by her previous landlord, who waited until the lease expired before addressing the issues. Carra-deSalero was then unable to find a new home after that same landlord refused to confirm her tenancy.
“Growing up in Colorado, I don’t remember being worried about being forced to move,” she said. “We decided ourselves to relocate for personal reasons. We knew our landlords and owners. They were mom-and-pop people. It was mutually beneficial to both of us. That’s no longer the case.”
Pulver and Carra-deSalero focused their attention on a pro-tenant bill that passed an initial committee vote Thursday. HB23-1171 would generally give tenants a right of first refusal on whether to re-sign their leases, and block evictions, unless the landlord had legitimate reasons for doing so.
As Gov. Jared Polis and the Democrats in the Capitol work to address housing affordability and access, lawmakers have advanced several pro-tenant bills in recent weeks.
Rep. Javier Mabrey, a Democratic sponsor of the just-cause eviction bill, says the legislation is essential to preventing gentrification and displacement. The tenants need protections as Polis and top legislators consider major changes to the state’s land-use policy, Mabrey said.
“Colorado renters should be able to expect if they pay their rent each month and do not violate the terms of their lease agreement that they cannot be evicted,” said Rep. Serena Gonzales-Gutierrez, who like Mabrey is a Denver Democrat and a co-sponsor of the bill.
Opponents of the bill, Drew Hamrick of the Colorado Apartment Association, argue that it goes too far and infringes on the basic principles of a lease: Either party — tenant or landlord — can agree to continue on or not. Hamrick told lawmakers Wednesday that the bill would allow for “endless leases,” restricting the availability of housing and, in turn, cause prices to go up.
Republican Rep. Rick Taggart, of Grand Junction, said he was concerned the bill had gone too far in addressing the balance between landlords and tenants. That echoes criticism raised by other House Republicans of the broader Democratic push to reshape the landlord-tenant relationship.
But supporters of the just-cause eviction bill argue that tenants are often fearful of raising concerns about the condition of their units because the property owner can choose to not renew their lease, prompting renters to embark on a sudden, uncertain search for housing. If land-use reform opens up more property for multi-unit development, then those areas will become more valuable and, Mabrey and other housing advocates argue, make displacement of lower-income renters via non-renewals more likely.
“It just seems like the deck is stacked against us,” said Cleveland Smith, a Westminster resident. His wife, Monique Gant, testified that her landlord attacked her after she requested a copy of her lease and addressed other concerns she had.
Nevertheless, property owners argue that stories about slumlords paint all property owners in a negative light. A Denver landlord, Nora Baldwin, told lawmakers that the experiences tenants had described were “tragic and traumatic” and that landlords in those cases were “terrible people.”
“But I am not one of them,” she said. “I care about my tenants, I run a business. I’m fair, I’m kind, I help innumerable tenants make it through hard times.”
Pulver told The Denver Post that the bill would make running the rooming house impossible. Coffman House does not always operate smoothly, she said. That’s not fair to tenants who follow the rules, which boil down to “be considerate – live and let live.”
Not renewing a tenant’s lease is a way to address those problems, she said.
Pulver criticized a provision in the bill requiring landlords to pay relocation costs to tenants who are evicted without cause. Negotiations around that part of the bill are ongoing, and changes are likely, Mabrey told the Post.
In a 9-4 party-line vote Wednesday, the House’s Transportation, Housing and Local Government committee advanced the bill to the full House following more than four hours of testimony.
Days earlier, the House advanced bills allowing local governments to enact rent control, limit what can be included in lease agreements, and strengthen eviction protections for certain tenants. Read more.