Federal Eviction Moratorium Ends As Colorado Renters Face Rising Cases And Aid Backlog
Only one week after most of Colorado moved into “level red” coronavirus restrictions last November, Mahima Pradhan’s work as a scheduler at a local Boulder hospital shriveled up. Her employer cut hours, and she was diagnosed with COVID-19, she said, which left her unable to work.
Savings kept the single mom afloat for several months until this spring, when medical bills and rent finally became too much. She now owes over $6,000 in back rent.
Last Friday, Pradhan’s landlord took her to court in Boulder County. With the federal government’s eviction moratorium expiring, she felt pressured to accept a deal the judge offered her: apply for emergency rental assistance and move out of her Longmont apartment on Aug. 3, months before her original lease was set to end.
If she agreed, the court would suppress her case and she could avoid getting an eviction on her record. Pradhan took it.
“They can still move forward with the eviction if my balance isn’t paid, so fingers crossed,” she said. “I'm lucky that I have family I can move in with while I get my stuff together.”
Her case is one of hundreds making their way through the court system this summer with fewer protections now that the federal eviction moratorium has ended. The safety net officially expired on July 30.
Statewide, at least 1,613 eviction cases were filed statewide from May to July — a jump from just 1,070 in 2020, according to Colorado Judicial Branch data. The numbers are likely even higher because Denver County is excluded from the set. Outside of Denver, cases increased year-over-year in nearly every county, with the exception of some rural communities that reported no eviction filings.
In Boulder County, for example, at least 66 eviction cases were filed in June. The number was higher than the same month in June 2019, before the pandemic hit.
An eviction filing doesn’t guarantee an eviction will take place right away. The case has to to be tried and ruled upon by a judge, a process that can take several months.
Landlords and housing advocates say the rise in filings is an early signal of a return to normal. For much of the past year, filings have been artificially low because of the federal moratorium. Now with protections gone, they’re rising back to pre-pandemic levels.
Colorado has so far distributed more than $121 million in emergency rental assistance it received from various federal and state stimulus packages. But thousands of applications remain in limbo, according to data from the Department of Local Affairs.
Over the weekend, Gov. Jared Polis passed an executive order that bans evictions of renters who can prove they have a pending application. The new order gives tenants a 30-day window to get that application processed before a landlord can proceed with an eviction case. The idea is to keep folks housed who may just be waiting for a few weeks on emergency aid.
“With the expiration of the CDC (moratorium), the time is now to be proactive in pursuing relief,” said Rick Garcia, executive director of DOLA, in a statement. “Both landlords and tenants should remain in close contact with (the state) regarding their applications, and landlords should refrain from evicting their tenants for nonpayment while they are pursuing help.”
Despite the new state order, renters and housing advocates are still on edge.
“It’s a really frightening moment for us,” said Zach Neumann, an attorney with the COVID-19 Eviction Defense Project, a local nonprofit that works with renters. “A lot of our tenants and even landlords don’t know what to do next.”
The Colorado Apartment Association, the state’s largest trade group for landlords, sees the eviction moratorium as more of a transition back to normal. Most landlords have been saying for a while now that the moratorium should end because there is so much assistance available.
Drew Hamrick, who is with the association, says CAA members are seeing about 97% of their tenants paying rent on time.
“Normality in Colorado is somewhere between 36,000 to 50,000 evictions filed each year,” Hamrick said. “So you'll start to see numbers like 3,000 or 4,000 evictions per month filed. There may be a temporary spike, but it's nothing like the catastrophic levels that some are using as a justification for more funding or for political advocacy. And the reason we know that is precisely because the payment rates have remained so high.”
Information on rental assistance applications is available on DOLA’s website. Homeowners who are in forbearance can also access assistance on the same page.