The Keep Coloradans Housed Bill will help Colorado families stay in stable homes. Under consideration by the Colorado Senate, it will protect working families from bad actor landlords who charge excessive late fees and move to illegally evict struggling tenants.
Renting families are at high risk of eviction, especially during COVID-19 pandemic when more than 128,000 have lost their jobs in Colorado but housing costs remain high. A recent survey of low-income renters in the metro Denver area showed that landlords for half of them raised their rent – the average increase was $113 per month, while some families reported being charged $450 per month more, a 38% increase. These are households with children, seniors, people with disabilities and veterans.
The housing crisis is disproportionately harming people of color in Colorado. Structural racism and discriminatory housing policies mean that Black and Latinx families are more likely to rent their homes – and spend a larger portion of their budgets on housing. In fact, almost six in 10 Latinx and Black households are considered rent burdened, as compared with just 45% of white renters.
Paris Pedraza, a Denver renter who works as a cook for the Denver Sheriff Department and is a member of 9to5 Colorado knows first-hand about living on the edge of homelessness. In December and January, he got behind on his rent when his rental assistance payment came in later than usual. Despite the legal pause on late fees, his landlord charged him daily until he owed $720 in late fees alone. Paris has been working very hard to get caught up on paying rent but it’s difficult to catch up with all the additional fees. He is caught up in an impossible cycle of debt due to unreasonable late fees.
The problem is that Colorado law allows bad actor landlords to take advantage of tenants, including charging them outrageously expensive late fees, illegally locking them out of their homes and evicting them after just 10 days late. These fees far exceed the cost of a late payment to the landlord – Senate hearing testimony revealed that management companies pocket anywhere between half and 100% of late fees collected.
Currently, court proceedings are stacked against renters, too. To hold a landlord accountable for fixing dangerous or unhealthy conditions – like a pervasive mold or a pest infestation – tenants must come up with the money to post an expensive bond, in effect pricing them out of court and allowing the hazard to continue.
Eviction is devastating for families, leading to prolonged homelessness and damaged credit, making it almost impossible to find another home; serious mental and physical health problems; and interrupted education and social-emotional harm for children. It is a social problem we should avoid at all costs.
Coloradans want to shift the balance of power so renting families aren’t at the mercy of bad actor landlords and unfair court rules. A February 2021 poll found that Colorado voters want serious housing reform to help struggling families avoid eviction and stay in their homes. Eight in 10 support caps on the late fees landlords can charge, more than three-quarters support prohibiting eviction based on late fees alone if base rent is paid, 74% agree that renters shouldn’t have to pay excessive fees during an eviction hearing if they want to raise health and safety concerns about their rental home and almost 7 in 10 support prohibiting landlords from charging interest on late fees.
In October, Governor Polis appointed the Colorado Special Eviction Prevention Task Force to study these problems. Their one unanimous recommendation was for the legislature to research and consider imposing a statutory limit on the amount of late fees and interest that landlords can charge tenants in rentals or mobile home owners with leases.
Responding to the critical need to keep families in stable housing, Sens. Julie Gonzales and Dominick Moreno and Reps. Serena Gonzales-Gutierrez and Yadira Caraveo are sponsoring SB 173, the Keep Coloradans Housed Bill. It will:
- Require information about late fees to be included in tenant leases
- Limit late fees on unpaid rent to a set percentage, dollar amount and grace period
- Give renters more time to come up with their rent and avoid eviction
- Prohibit tenant evictions solely for owing late fees
- Ban lease clauses that provide financial incentives to landlords who evict
- Establish a financial penalty for landlords who illegally lock out tenants
- Eliminate bond requirements so renters are not priced out of court when there are health and safety problems with the property
Passing the Keep Coloradans Housed Bill will give renters a fighting chance against a system that would turn them onto the streets. I urge our state legislators to vote yes and keep families in stable homes.
Cesiah Guardarrama Trejo is the co-associate director of 9to5 Colorado, a membership organization of working women, dedicated to putting working women’s issues on the public agenda.