Colorado Senate backs tenants’ rights bill
Vail, CO Colorado
DENVER, Colorado ” The Senate backed a proposal giving tenants more leverage against bad landlords on Tuesday with the help of two lawmakers who own rental properties.
Four other senators, however, bowed out of the vote to avoid a conflict of interest because they are landlords.
The measure (House Bill 1356) squeaked by in a 21-10 vote. It needed at least 19 votes to pass in the 35-member Senate.
Senate Majority Leader Ken Gordon, D-Denver, and Sen. Abel Tapia, D-Pueblo, who own rental properties, said it was proper for them to vote for the bill because it actually went against their interests.
Gordon said not voting wouldn’t have lowered the minimum 19 votes needed to pass the bill. Therefore he said abstaining would have been the equivalent of voting against the bill, which would ultimately be in his interest as the owner of rental property.
“I think I have a conflict with conflicting off this bill,” Gordon said.
The vote followed a controversy over whether Rep. Douglas Bruce, R-Colorado Springs, should have voted against the bill in the House. Bruce, who didn’t disclose he was a landlord, said he didn’t have to abstain from voting because he didn’t personally benefit from his vote. He was criticized by House Majority Leader Alice Madden, D-Boulder, for voting on the bill.
Legislators are barred from voting on issues if they have a direct and immediate financial interest in them. The Legislature’s chief lawyer has advised that such cases are rarely clear-cut and that lawmakers have to decide for themselves whether they need to disclose a conflict of interest or recuse themselves from voting.
Elena Nunez, program director for the public-interest lobby Colorado Common Cause, which earlier criticized Bruce’s vote, said the intent of the Legislature’s conflict of interest rule is to ensure that lawmakers are voting in the best interest of the state, not to support their own personal interests. She agreed with Gordon that an abstention is the equivalent of a no vote but acknowledged the issue wasn’t clear cut.
“It’s definitely a gray area but I think lawmakers are on more solid ground in voting against their interest,” she said.
Sen. Steve Ward, R-Littleton, who rents a townhome, abstained from voting “out of an abundance of political caution”, not because he really thought there was a conflict. Ward said he thought a tax break for landlords would have been a real conflict.
The other senators who abstained from voting were Sen. Lois Tochtrop, D-Thornton, Sen. Ted Harvey, R-Highlands Ranch, and Sen. Josh Penry, R-Fruita.
The measure (House Bill 1356) requires landlords to provide basics like heat and running water and allows tenants to withhold rent and go to court if landlords refuse to fix serious problems. Landlords would be barred from retaliating against tenants who file a complaint by raising their rent or cutting off services. The measure also requires that tenants keep units clean and not disturb their neighbors or deface the unit.
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