A Colorado bill that would increase protections for tenants is receiving criticism from landlords who argue that, if passed, it will lead to higher rents.
House Bill 1170, co-sponsored by Rep. Dominique Jackson, Rep. Mike Weissman, Sen. Angela Williams and Sen. Jeff Bridges, would give renters more rights, including the ability to withhold rent in certain situations, by modifying the warranty of habitability statute that covers rental agreements for residential properties in Colorado.
The bill is under consideration by the House and would then need Senate approval before being sent to the governor to potentially be signed into law.
Andrea Chiriboga-Flor, senior housing organizer for the women’s rights nonprofit 9to5 Colorado in Denver, said the legislation is needed to address habitability and affordability issues in the state.
“We did a survey between 2015 and 2016 to identify the biggest barriers renters have to finding and staying in housing and cost was the No. 1 issue — but maintenance issues was actually pretty close to it,” she said.
Meanwhile, Nancy Burke, vice president of government affairs for The Colorado Apartment Association, said it has called for several changes to the bill, arguing it would increase rent prices while decreasing the number of affordable units available if passed the way it is currently written.
Landlords will likely have to hire additional staff in order to adhere to some of the proposed requirements of the new bill, she said, adding those costs could be passed on to tenants through increased rents.
“Landlords eventually are going to get tired of jumping through all the hoops and get out of the business,” Burke said. “That means even less housing options on the market.”
The bill would create a time frame for landlords to make repairs, between 24 to 72 hours.
Burke said that is not acceptable because response times could vary “drastically” depending on the repair and other mitigating circumstances, such as an accident involving the landlord or other emergency situations.
“I mean what if a landlord is somewhere in the mountains, where they don’t have service for a couple of days?” she said. “There needs to be something in the bill to protect landlords in those circumstances.”
The bill also permits tenants to withhold an estimated cost of repairs or services needed from their rent payment due to uninhabitability.
Chiriboga-Flor has heard of women who can’t afford rent because they had to pay for an exterminator after their landlord failed to address the issue, she said.
“Renters are having to pay for stuff like that, or hotels to stay at when their apartment becomes unsafe,” she said. “Next thing you know, rent is due, and they can’t pay it and are subsequently evicted.”
However, Burke said the bill allows tenants to use minor issues to avoid paying rent as well as putting landlords’ properties at risk by not controlling who is completing the repairs.
“Landlords want to make sure their investments, which for a lot of them are their retirement, are taken care of and fixed properly,” she said. “For instance, if it’s an electrical problem and the tenant doesn’t have it fixed properly, that could cause a fire.”
Chiriboga-Flor said the bill also changes the warranty of habitability statute to recognize mold as a condition that can present a health risk to tenants.
However, Burke said mold already is covered under the current law.
“The reason they’re saying that it’s not is that it doesn’t exactly say M-O-L-D,” she said. “But currently if anything is materially hazardous or dangerous, it’s covered, and mold already falls underneath that category in the warranty of habitability.”
Additionally, Burke said mold can be a result of a tenant’s behavior, in which case the landlord shouldn’t be held accountable.
“It can be caused by them keeping the apartment really hot and shut up with no air flow,” she said. “It also can happen if a tenant is not keeping the unit clean.”
The bill also expands the ability of tenants to file injunctions with county courts and small claims court.
“That’s going to potentially clog up the court system, so the association is concerned about that too,” Burke said.
According to the bill summary on the Colorado General Assembly’s website, HB 1170 provides the following tenant protections:
• It allows tenants to notify landlords of uninhabitable conditions through written notice, including electronically with email and text messaging.
• The bill would remove the requirement that a tenant notify the local government of a habitability issue before seeking an injunction.
• If a tenant gives a landlord notice of a condition that is hazardous to life, health or safety, the landlord must move the tenant to a comparable unit under the control of the landlord or pay for the tenant to reside in a reasonably comparable temporary living location while the condition is being remedied or repaired.
• It extends protection of tenants from retaliation of landlords for making a complaint to the landlord or a governmental agency about the property being uninhabitable.
• The bill would remove provisions that allow a lease to require a tenant to assume certain responsibilities concerning conditions and characteristics of a property.
• If an issue recurs within six months after repair or remediation, a tenant may terminate the lease 14 days after giving the landlord written or electronic notice of intent to leave.
Burke said the association has submitted 14 amendments to the bill.
“We are trying to work with the sponsors. We want to work with the sponsors,” she said. “If we can get the amendments in, we’re going to be fine with it, we think.
“I just think it’s really important on things like this that we’re working together and not pointing fingers at each other, and in turn, causing rents to increase.”
Go to leg.colorado.gov to follow the status of HB 1170.