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Rent control and tenant protections are on the table to address housing crisis

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Lucas Brady Woods
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KUNC
Addressing the housing crisis is a top priority for lawmakers at the State Capitol. Here the Capitol is pictured on Wednesday, Feb. 15, 2023.

Colorado’s housing crisis is top of mind at the State Capitol. Lawmakers are advancing legislation to protect tenants and keep housing affordable as legislators say rent prices in the state are climbing.

Under consideration are bills that would allow local governments to impose rent control and add protections for Coloradans threatened with eviction.

Federal pandemic relief funds helped many Coloradans pay rent over the last few years, but now that money has mostly dried up.

Government-imposed rent control or rent stabilization on private property is not currently allowed under Colorado law. Rent control generally caps rental rates at a certain level while stabilization allows for increases in rent at a rate set by .

But House Bill 1115 would repeal that prohibition. By doing so, it would allow counties and municipalities to impose local rent-control ordinances on residential properties.

“People need relief immediately, and far more people need relief than we currently have plans to help,” bill sponsor Rep. Elizabeth Velasco said. “Local rent stabilization will add a tool to the toolbox to let local communities solve this urgent problem.”

The bill also leaves in place the ability for local governments to regulate development in order to make way for more affordable housing. The bill’s sponsors say it would not prevent landlords from earning a profit.

Critics, including real estate industry representatives, say controlling rent prices will drive away real estate development. They also point out the bill does nothing to incentivize the construction of new housing inventory.

House Bill 1115 passed the House Transportation, Housing and Local Government Committee on Thursday and heads to a preliminary vote on the House floor.

Another bill, House Bill ​​1120, would require certain tenants and landlords going through eviction proceedings to use mediation, or a neutral third-party, to find a compromise It would only apply to tenants who receive public benefits, including people on disability assistance and families getting temporary financial help.

“It's so important, if we're talking about eviction protection, that we have to ensure that that very small and marginalized group of people also are part of the discussion,” Boulder Rep. Junie Joseph, one of the bill’s sponsors, said. “I think this bill will ensure that they are at the table and their voices are heard.”

The bill would also give those tenants more time to leave their home after an eviction order. Currently that time frame is ten days. If passed, House Bill 1120 would extend that to thirty days.

Zach Neumann, an eviction attorney and co-founder of the Community Economic Defense Project, said he has seen a roughly 10% increase in clients over the past three months.

“I think in the short term, for the next five or ten years, we need stabilization,” Neumann said. “Stabilization is things like rental assistance, rehousing services, smooth transitions for people who have lost their housing, eviction, legal defense services, all of the things that push back on this trend of folks being forced out of their homes and out of their neighborhoods.”

Rep. David Ortiz, the first Colorado lawmaker to use a wheelchair, is another sponsor behind House Bill 1120.

“It is hard to find housing, period, whether you're completely able-bodied or not,” said Ortiz. “Even more so if you live with a disability. This provides the extra time needed to set yourself up for success to try and find a new place to live.”

House Bill 1120 was approved by the House Judiciary Committee on Tuesday and moves on to a fiscal review next.

House Bill 1171 also aims to protect tenants from unjustified evictions. If passed, it would limit evictions by laying out the exact circumstances in which evictions are allowed, such as failure to pay rent, illegal activity, violating a lease or creating a nuisance for other tenants. It does not permit evictions based on an expired lease as long as a tenant has a history of regular rent payments.

House Bill 1171 is scheduled for a hearing in the House Transportation, Housing and Local Government Committee on March 1.

Neumann, the eviction attorney, believes state-level legislation, like the bills currently being considered by the General Assembly, is needed to achieve housing stabilization. But he also said protections for tenants and rent control may not be enough.

“I think over the long term, we need to be investing in affordable housing,” Neumann said. “But that's going to take a while. Those investments are just being made now, and that's really more of a ten year horizon sort of thing.”

KUNC's Robyn Vincent contributed reporting to this story.

I’m the Statehouse Reporter at KUNC, which means I help make sense of the latest developments at the Colorado State Capitol. I cover the legislature, the governor, and government agencies.
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