Denver City Council May Ask Governor for Colorado Rent Moratorium

Denver City Council is asking Polis to enact a moratorium on rental payments.
Denver City Council is asking Polis to enact a moratorium on rental payments. Photo by STIL on Unsplash
With the incomes of laid-off workers drying up across the city, Denver City Council is calling on Governor Jared Polis to enact an immediate rent moratorium.

Today, April 13, council will vote on a proclamation imploring Polis "to use the full legal extent of his emergency powers" to impose a moratorium on residential and small-business commercial rent for those currently unable to pay in Colorado because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

"Emergency powers absolutely trump contracts when they are needed to protect life and safety," says Councilwoman Robin Kniech, who introduced the proclamation and expects broad support from other councilmembers. "Keeping people in their homes is saving lives."

The proclamation is not binding, Kneich adds, and is more about "creating a conversation" regarding what Denver's elected officials and their constituents, many of whom have been calling for a moratorium, want from state leadership.

Mayor Michael Hancock has already directed deputies with the Denver Sheriff Department to stop assisting with eviction orders issued before the pandemic began. But the City of Denver is limited in how much it can intervene with rent payments, owing to state preemption of local rent control, Kniech says.

And while deputies are no longer assisting with eviction orders, landlords are still able to file eviction papers in court. Although those eviction filings won't be processed right away, since civil proceedings are temporarily delayed at Denver County Court, a notice of eviction will still remain in the legal system for adjudication once court restarts.

"No Coloradan or small business who is unable to pay through no fault of their own should be required to pay rent during this health emergency, nor should they accumulate debt or interest for unpaid rent," the proclamation reads.

In March, Denver saw a 245 percent increase in applications to its Temporary Rental and Utility Assistance program. "There will not be sufficient city or state funding to pay all rent shortfalls in Denver," the proclamation adds.

Polis, who allocated $3 million on March 20 for emergency rental assistance, has so far opted for issuing recommendations rather than mandates to landlords. Although on March 20 he also delivered an executive order calling for state agencies to encourage the prevention of foreclosures and evictions, and asked that landlords not impose fees and that banks halt foreclosures, that order was a request, not a requirement.

“Of course the Governor does not have any legal ability to suspend rent or evictions outright, as these are private contracts between individuals and institutions and suspending the sanctity of contract is not within the emergency powers of any governor or President," Polis's office says in response to news of the proclamation. "The Governor has taken some of the strongest steps of any Governor in the nation on using his legal authority on behalf of renters and encourages the council members to join with the state in making rental assistance more widely available during this time.

"The Governor has issued an executive order directing DOLA to work with property owners and landlords to avoid removing or executing eviction procedures against tenants or mobile homeowners without cause or as a result of late or nonpayment of rent, and directed law enforcement to not evict during this time. He has also worked closely with utilities to prevent shutoffs for late or non-payment, and made $3 million available through DOLA for rent support for hardworking people struggling to keep up with their bills.

"The Governor is strongly encouraging landlords and financial institutions not to proceed with evictions, doing what he can within his power to prevent evictions from happening including not allowing state resources to be used for that purpose.”

While focusing mostly on what can be done in Colorado, the council proclamation also asks for action on the national level. Representative Diana DeGette, Senator Michael Bennet and Senator Cory Gardner should all work with President Donald Trump to enact a full moratorium on all rent for those unable to pay right now, the proclamation states.

The CARES Act, which was recently passed by Congress and signed into law by Trump, created a temporary moratorium on landlords who rent out properties with federally backed mortgages from moving ahead with any eviction proceedings. But those provisions protect only about one-third of rental apartments, according to Kniech.

Here's the full proclamation:

Update: This story has been updated to include a statement from Governor Jared Polis's office.
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Conor McCormick-Cavanagh is a staff writer at Westword, where he covers a range of beats, including local politics, immigration and homelessness. He previously worked as a journalist in Tunisia and loves to talk New York sports.