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Colorado governor signs “for-cause” eviction protections into law. Here’s what they’ll do.

Supporters organized for months to pass bill a year after similar measure died in state Senate

Polis signing 'for cause' evictions bill
As bill sponsors look on with supporters, Colorado Gov. Jared Polis, front center, signs a for-cause eviction protections bill, Friday, April 19, 2024, in the Colorado Capitol in Denver. The for-cause eviction protections bill is one of the most sweeping pro-tenant bills passed in recent years and is the product of 18 months of lawmaking and organizing. (AP Photo/David Zalubowski)

Gov. Jared Polis signed “for-cause” eviction protections into law Friday, making Colorado the sixth U.S. state to enact the policy that’s aimed at blunting displacement of vulnerable tenants.

 

The law, passed by the legislature late last month, effectively gives tenants a right of first refusal to renew their leases. That protection, supporters say, will insulate renters from discriminatory or retaliatory nonrenewals from landlords, who may want to rid themselves of a tenant who complained about an apartment’s condition.

 

“This is the right thing to do,” said Democratic Rep. Javier Mabrey, who sponsored the bill this year with House Majority Leader Monica Duran and Democratic Sens. Julie Gonzales and Nick Hinrichsen. “In working on this legislation, we heard from families who have seen firsthand the lack of basic protections can have on families … who are removed based on the color of their skin or because they’ve made valid complaints about problems in their homes.”

 

What does the law do?

 

Broadly, the new law gives tenants a right of first refusal on whether to renew their lease or not. State law already requires cause — like failure to pay rent — before a tenant can be evicted during their lease. This new law covers the expiration of that lease and who gets to decide whether to renew it.

 

Why is the new law important?

 

The law is among the most significant tenant protections passed in Colorado in recent memory, as lawmakers seek solutions to the state’s housing crisis and the tens of thousands of evictions it causes every year.

 

While Polis has pursued land-use reforms that seek to spur denser development, progressive lawmakers have sought more immediate protections to reduce evictions and displacements.

 

The for-cause evictions bill represented the most prominent policy within that approach, which also included efforts to improve the safety of housing, improve tenants’ access to eviction proceedings and regulate the contents and requirements of lease agreements.

 

Like Polis’ land-use measures, the for-cause bill’s passage has been a months-long fight.

 

How did the bill get to Polis’ desk?

 

Last year, a similar but more sweeping version of the bill, also backed by Mabrey and Gonzales, cleared the House but stalled in the Senate amid opposition from moderate Democrats.

 

That attempt died a procedural death on the penultimate day of the 2023 legislative session, as Mabrey and other supporters watched on from the Senate lobby. Its death sparked criticism from progressive legislators and advocates that state leaders hadn’t prioritized renters or done enough to protect them.

 

How did legislators change their approach?

 

This year, lawmakers brought a more narrowly tailored version of the policy, removing more controversial elements like a requirement that landlords pay tenants’ relocation costs in some circumstances. Duran, the No. 2 Democrat in the House, joined as a co-sponsor, and House Speaker Julie McCluskie declared that the policy was a priority of the chamber during her opening-day remarks in January.

 

Still, supporters had to fend off opposition from landlord groups and legislative Republicans, as well as a late attempt by some senate Democrats to hijack the bill.

 

“We did everything we possibly could to make sure we could get this to the finish line, so that our members and our working families and our renters who are (from minority groups), who are impacted by the evictions and displacements, could have these protections,” Cesiah Guadarrama Trejo, the co-chair of Colorado Homes for All, the coalition backing the bill, said after the vote.

 

What’s this law supposed to stop?

 

Proponents’ goal is to reduce displacement of renters. The right of first refusal offered by the for-cause protections is important, those supporters argue, because landlords can use expiring leases to displace tenants for a variety of nefarious reasons, like for discriminatory purposes or if a tenant has complained about an apartment’s condition. Mabrey, an eviction defense attorney, has said he represented a tenant who faced explicit racial discrimination and was displaced by her landlord.

 

A nonrenewal then requires tenants to pay the upfront costs of relocating, like deposits, application fees or moving costs. Meanwhile, landlords and property owners who’ve opposed the bill have argued that an expiring lease lets them move on from “problem” tenants they can’t otherwise evict.

 

Are there exemptions?

 

Yep. The law gives property owners and landlords various reasons to pull the plug on a lease renewal. Those exemptions include if the property owner is planning to demolish or substantially renovate the unit, if they or a family member want to move into the unit themselves, or if they intend to take it off the long-term rental market.

 

Other exemptions include the tenant refusing to sign a new lease, or if the tenant has a history of not paying rent in the past. The bill does prevent property owners from increasing rent to retaliate against a tenant or otherwise get around the law’s protections.