Amid a housing crunch brought on by soaring rents and stagnant wages, the Denver metro area has become ground zero for America’s eviction crisis, with nearly a thousand eviction cases filed every week in county courts across the state. A bill moving through the Colorado House of Representatives aims to reduce eviction rates by giving tenants more time to come up with their unpaid rent.
On Wednesday, February 27, after more than five hours of testimony from dozens of supporters and opponents, Democrats in the House Transportation and Local Government Committee approved House Bill 1118 on a 7 to 4 party-line vote. The bill would require landlords to give ten days’ notice to tenants who haven’t paid rent before initiating eviction proceedings in court, an increase from the three-day notice currently required by state law.
Giving renters an extra seven days to “cure” a lease violation, the bill’s supporters argued, could make all the difference for people who are living paycheck to paycheck, people with disabilities, and those who rely on some form of government assistance to make rent. In a concession to opponents of the bill, its sponsors introduced an amendment prior to Wednesday’s testimony that shortened the proposed new notice period from fourteen days to ten.
“This bill would give people time to come up with the cash to stay in their homes, which helps both the tenant and the landlord,” said Representative Dominique Jackson, a Democrat from Aurora and a bill sponsor, at the committee hearing. She pointed to various rent assistance programs offered by local governments and nonprofits, which can take longer than three days to process applications. “People need time in order to get that assistance, to get that documentation together.”
The bill’s opponents include the Colorado Apartment Association and the Colorado Association of Realtors. At Wednesday’s hearing, rental property owners and managers told the committee that they would respond to the bill by eliminating informal grace periods or requiring rent to be paid on the 25th of the previous month. They argued that the ten-day notice period would needlessly lengthen an eviction process that, after scheduling court dates and obtaining a judgment, can take up to two months from start to finish.
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“We work with our tenants all the time,” said Arnold Turner, owner of Longmont-based Turner Realty. “They call us before their rent is due and say, ‘I can’t pay this month.’ We say, ‘When can you pay?’ And we work out something with them. The tenants that get the three-day notice are the ones that ignore us — the ones that won’t let us help them. To give those deadbeats more time makes no sense to me.”
A 2017 report from the Colorado Center on Law and Policy, which testified in support of the bill on Wednesday, found that over 45,000 eviction cases were filed in Colorado in 2016; roughly four in five such cases result in tenants being evicted, according to the report. The median unpaid rent in eviction cases reviewed by CCLP researchers was just over $200, with one case filed over a $4 dispute.
On Wednesday, critics of HB 1118 repeatedly highlighted the impact it could have on smaller, individual landlords — people who "own one or two, or maybe three properties," in the words of opposing witness Jim Clark, executive director of the Investment Community of the Rockies. Owners of rental homes, he said, often rely on rent to make their mortgage payments on those properties. But Adams County Commissioner Emma Pinter, who testified in support of the bill, dismissed those concerns.
"This discussion is really about the difference between profit and existence," said Pinter, who represents a county with Colorado's highest eviction rate, at 4.4 percent. "Our tenants, our residents, are trying to survive, and pay for their own existence. Landlords are concerned about their profits."