Renters living in uninhabitable conditions or facing eviction have more protections after the Colorado Legislature and governor approved bills that could help prevent people from losing their homes.
The measures will likely be most effective for tenants who have a one-time emergency or conflict with their landlord, not those facing chronic conflict or financial trouble, housing experts said.
“The people that those (bills) are going to help the most are on the edge of housing instability,” said Elena Wilken, Housing Colorado’s executive director.
None of the measures are grand sweeping changes, but they do address some common complaints among tenants, said Lindsay Marshall, managing attorney of the Durango office for Colorado Legal Services, a statewide nonprofit.
“I think these are good fixes. I think Colorado law is a little bit behind as far as other states. It definitely is still pretty landlord protected, generally, that’s not a bad thing if landlords are following the law,” she said.
Tenants will have more time to pay rent or fix lease violations before a landlord can start the legal process to evict them under House Bill 19-1118, Marshall said.
Previously, if a tenant was late with rent or had violated the lease in a minor way, a landlord could start the eviction process after giving the tenant three days’ notice, that has been extended to 10 days, she said.
She expects the longer window will help keep residents in their homes by giving them time to apply for rental assistance.
The Legislature also passed HB 19-1170 to update the laws governing a home’s habitability, which can be the source of major conflict between landlords and tenants, experts said.
When a home is leaking, a sewer line is backed up or other critical services are not working and landlords don’t take prompt action, tenants can get mad and withhold rent, said Laura Zeitler with Housing Solutions for the Southwest.
“It snowballs, and then they lose their house,” she said of tenants.
Under the new law, tenants can withhold rent to cover the cost of necessary repairs under certain conditions, if they give their landlord notice, the bill says.
However, the law is untested, and it could still be risky for tenants to withhold rent, especially without a full understanding of the rules, Marshall said.
When major problems arise, tenants now have more flexibility under the law about how to notify their landlords, she said. Previously, tenants had to send their landlords certified or hand-delivered letters about violations of the habitability rules to hold their landlord accountable. Now, tenants can send landlords text messages or other electronic notification about violations and are legally entitled to receive a response within 24 hours, according to the law.
Mold in a home, a major complaint among tenants, was also added to the list of problems that must be remedied by a landlord under the state’s requirements for habitability, Marshall said.
Previously, it only had to be fixed if it posed an immediate health concern, she said.
Mold is by far the most common complaint among regional tenants that was not previously listed in the law, she said.
Housing Solutions Executive Director Elizabeth Salkind said good communication between a tenant and landlord is key and can prevent some conflicts that lead to legal problems.
Even under the new rules and time frames, if a tenant and landlord have a conflict arising from violations of the lease, it’s unlikely to change the ultimate outcome, she said.
“Fostering the communication between the parties is something that could go a long way,” she said.