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Did You Get an Eviction Notice for Christmas?

The eviction moratorium is over.
The eviction moratorium is over. Patricia Calhoun
All you got for Christmas was an eviction notice? Help could be at hand.

“The biggest thing I stress to tenants in this situation is to seek legal counsel immediately,” says state representative Serena Gonzales-Gutierrez. She sponsored Senate Bill 173, which passed the Colorado Legislature in June, went into effect in October, and allows tenants up to seven days after the due date to pay their rent before a landlord can charge a late fee. In Colorado, it typically takes up to ten days for a renter to pay in full before eviction proceedings. The new law also allows low-income tenants to make a warranty of habitability claim before having to post a costly bond with the court in order to fight an eviction. "We have several programs that could help provide tenants in the right direction," Gonzales-Gutierrez advises.

Those programs help with both legal and financial resources. Zach Neumann, co-founder and executive director of the COVID-19 Eviction Defense Project, points out that despite the recent spike in COVID cases, there has been no return to COVID-related eviction protections or moratoriums in Colorado; those ended at the end of September. But financial relief from the Department of Local Affairs (DOLA) and several affordable legal resources can help tenants catch up on rent and offer further guidance.

Even with SB 173 in place, an eviction demand can lead to a lengthy and expensive process for tenants and landlords alike. “This is not the kind of thing to sit on, " says Neumann. "If you're struggling to pay your rent or you're behind or you have that demand on your door, the faster you take action, the better off you’ll be."

Neumann suggests that tenants seek legal representation immediately. Organizations like Colorado Legal Services, the COVID-19 Eviction Defense Project, 9to5 Colorado, Colorado Affordable Legal Services and Colorado Housing Connects offer free or affordable legal and financial services for qualifying tenants facing eviction.

DOLA is currently offering temporary financial relief both for tenants facing eviction and for homeowners who are having trouble making mortgage payments. The Colorado Emergency Rental Assistance Program (ERAP) can help tenants with up to fifteen months of rent going back as far back as April 2020, but the application and approval process can take weeks. That means a tenant could still be waiting on a rent relief application to be approved on the day of a court hearing in the tenant's eviction case. “It's a real disconnect in our system, and the court system operates outside of our social system," Neumann says.

According to Colorado Legal Services, tenants who lack the money for legal representation or have not gotten financial aid could have to represent themselves in court — but they cannot be evicted or moved out of their homes until they've been given the chance to appear in court.

For non-rent-related eviction cases, a mutual rescission of a lease is an option, in which case the tenant and landlord can agree to terminate the lease. Mediation is another possibility; a mediator can help a landlord and tenant come to an agreement and avoid an eviction case. Some organizations, such as  Colorado Legal Services, provide mediation services for free to low-income residents. The Colorado Judicial Branch's Office of Dispute Resolution offers online and phone services, and allows tenants the option to apply for a reduced fee for this service.

Denver provides a little additional protection for tenants, via an ordinance that passed Denver City Council in June and took effect in September. It ensures that low-income Denver renters have access to legal representation through every step of eviction proceedings. The city's Department of Housing Stability (HOST) also provides temporary financial relief for tenants struggling to pay rent or utilities, and prevents eviction or service shut-off through the Temporary Rent and Utility Assistance (TRUA) program.  
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Hilal is an alumnus of Metropolitan State University of Denver, with a degree in political science. Along with Westword, she's written for Denver Life magazine and 303 magazine.
Contact: Hilal Bahcetepe

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