June 22, 2010

Renters With Benefits : Renters’ Rights in Colorado

Originally written and published on New Era News by Chris Getzan

While Christian Sporcich has been a landlord the last seven years, he clearly remembers what it was like living in a family that rented.

“As a kid growing up, my mom rented,” Sporcich says. Often, he says, his mother had trouble getting security deposits back from a landlord when they moved. Even when they were clearly in the right.

“We lived in [one] apartment, and the entire thing flooded. I remember waking up as kid, and water was…right next to the bed,” Sporcich says. “We lost everything. We had to move, and we didn’t get our deposits back.”

Though he is a landlord today, says Sporcich, an experience like losing everything in an apartment flood has remained with him.  He says that “it affects me, big time. I kinda know what it feels” to live as a tenant.

According to the U.S. Census’ American Community Survey estimates for 2006-2008, 44 percent of Denver residents are renters, approximately 11 percent more than the national average. The ’06-’08 ACS figures also show that about 12 percent of renting families are, like Christian Sporcich’s family, headed by a single mother, while nearly 20 percent of family households in Denver are renters as well.

“I would like to see more regulation in regards to renting,” says District 3 Denver City Councilman Paul Lopez. “Especially in this economy, where people are struggling to make rent, or losing their homes to foreclosures.”

Renters rights in Denver become even more important in the housing crisis, says Lopez, because the number of renters is increasing.  As a result, Councilman Lopez acknowledges that renters rights are going to be an important issue in the coming years.

“It’s making sure there’s due process, making sure regulations in place that are reasonable and humane,” Lopez says.  “We’re talking about places where many families are calling home.”

Additionally, the same data sets indicate that over half of renters in Denver are paying a third or more of their income in rent, which housing advocates say is above the norm. While local homeowners have gotten the attention in the country’s devastating housing crisis, Denver renters are often worse off financially, and potentially more vulnerable.

“One of the frustrating points…is making sure [rentals are] affordable, in line with the market price,” says Lopez. “And that end of the lease, they get that security deposit back. A lot of people count on that security deposit getting returned in a timely fashion.”

Tenant protections in Colorado are still widely regarded as some of the worst in the country. Until the passage of 2008’s warrant of habitability law by state legislators, Colorado and Arkansas were the only two states in the country that did not legally require landlords to maintain sanitary and safe housing. And historically, renters’ rights legislation has been a low priority to lawmakers at both the state and local level.

While housing advocates had success in getting a warrant of habitability act passed in 2008, little about that law distinguishes it from the version activists had been pushing for over 20 years. In the original push for a state law in 1985, housing activists were put in the position of having to argue against passage of the warrant of habitability law they originally backed, as Senate Republicans larded on amendment after amendment, turning the bill “into a protection act for landlords.” And later that same year, six members of the Denver City Council abstained from voting on passage of a local version of a warrant of habitability, claiming they had a conflict of interest because they were also landlords themselves.

To read the rest of the article, please go to New Era News.

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