The plight of Denver renters who've lost their jobs amid the COVID-19 crisis has been the focus of activism aplenty of late. Note the launch of a petition calling for a halt to rent and mortgage collection; the formation of the Colorado Rent Strike and Eviction Defense group, which has added thousands of members in just over two weeks; and the inauguration of protests during which participants are encouraged to shout, bang pots and pans and honk car horns at 6 p.m. each night until a temporary moratorium on rent is put in place.
In response, the Colorado Apartment Association, the largest organization of its kind in the state, is asking renters to pay if they can — and reminds those who can't that they'll still owe their landlord even if a temporary deferment can be arranged.
Last week, CAA offered advice for Colorado landlords whose tenants can't pay under the present, and extraordinary, circumstances. Here are the group's main recommendations:
• Create payment plans for residents unable to pay rent because of virus-related loss of income
• Waive all late fees through April 30, 2020
• Refrain from enforcing eviction orders with move-outs through April 30, 2020
• Avoid rent increases
• Share the Colorado Housing Financial Assistance Programs and Apartment Association of Metro Denver’s list of resources for renters
• Limit entry to rental properties to only emergency maintenance response
• Follow HIPAA federal rules for resident and employee privacy if a community has a positive test
• Increase common area cleaning with the approved list of cleaning supplies from the CDC [Centers for Disease Control]
• Continue to follow the Governor’s mandate for reduced workplace staff and continue to follow the CDC guidelines for social distancing
• Maintain emergency maintenance needs for renters
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Michelle Balch Lyng, a spokesperson for the association, encouraged renters suddenly short of resources to "keep the lines of communication open. If you feel you're at risk as a renter or a resident of not being able to pay your rent because of a layoff or, God forbid, an illness, the important thing to do is talk to your manager or your housing provider early. While we're recommending things to housing providers, we're also recommending that renters who are in that situation talk to their landlord or housing provider, because they may be able to put them in touch with resources" like the ones linked here, as offered by the Colorado Housing Financial Assistance Programs and the Apartment Association of Metro Denver.
In a recent conversation with Westword, the Colorado Rent Strike and Eviction Defense group's Desiree Kane stressed that she doesn't want the current scenario to be used as an excuse to pit renters against landlords, who have their own bills to pay. That's why she favors a freeze on the collection of both rent and mortgages. "If you start unpacking who has the power and you look at who enforces eviction, it's the police, and the police are used by the courts, and the courts are used by the banks," she says. "That's why we need Governor [Jared] Polis and our congressional representatives to fight back against the banks." Nonetheless, Kane notes, "There are 2.1 million poor people in Colorado, folks who are living paycheck to paycheck, like me. They're saying, 'What do I do about May when April is just starting?'"
CRSED has signed on to the aforementioned petition, which calls for the following:
• freeze (completely waive/cancel, not defer) collection of all rent, mortgage, and utility (phone, power, water and internet) payments and automatically extend expired leases
• close all court filings for evictions and foreclosures
• immediately house houseless residents in unoccupied buildings, hotels, and other unused living spaces
• cease ICE arrests/deportations; release vulnerable populations, demilitarizing and decarcerating non-violent offenders and political prisoners from jails, prisons, and detention centers
• expand paid sick days and medical leave for all workers
• expand unemployment, food stamp, disability income and family support request filings
• eliminate all economic barriers to COVID-19 testing and treatment
• guarantee childcare and safe alternate housing for essential workers
• expand emergency production of and guaranteed access to PPE (personal protective equipment) for all essential workers
• create an economic relief fund specifically for undocumented residents excluded from federal stimulus
• learn about the specific needs of Indigenous people, Black and Brown people, LGBTQAI2S+ relatives, educators, freelancers, undocumented and documented immigrants, and low income workers, and work towards answering these needs as rapidly as possible.
For his part, Ryan Hamby of Denver PSL, the organization behind the nightly noise demonstrations, wants to build on the first effort, which took place on April 1. He hopes participants will make a righteous racket nightly until officials here cancel and forgive all rent, mortgage and utility payments.
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In a statement, Mark Williams, executive vice president of the Colorado Apartment Association, weighs in on what he characterizes as "rumors around a rent strike in Colorado." On behalf of CAA's members, he writes, "we’re encouraging Colorado residents to pay April rent if they have not been directly affected by COVID-19 or a subsequent traumatic event."
Williams stresses, "We are conscious of the widespread impact to our community, and understand many Colorado residents have financial losses directly related to COVID-19 and desperately need the financial aid services offered by nonprofits and housing providers. We encourage residents who cannot pay rent to talk with their housing provider immediately. Housing providers are being encouraged to offer payment plans and rent restructure agreements. Rent payment plans and rent restructure do not eliminate rent, and every workout is different."
Nonetheless, Williams offers this reminder: "The current order is not a rent-forgiveness program, and once the pandemic subsides, residents will be responsible for repayment on the months missed. If a resident has the ability to pay rent, it is best to pay at the pre-determined due date."
He adds: "This is a challenging situation for everyone, and we are all in this together. Rent payments remain crucial for the industry to continue operating. Housing providers use rent payments to cover mortgage costs, pay employees, compensate vendors, and maintain properties. When they do not receive rent payments, they are unable to provide maintenance and manage the buildings that house Colorado residents. It’s important that our communities come together and find solutions that pave a way forward in light of this unprecedented downturn. The decisions people make today will determine the impacts on their personal lives and our economy of tomorrow."