Renters’ rights on the rise in Colorado
The bill, sponsored by Denver Democrat Andrew Romanoff, won its first battle this week, gaining approval from a state House of Representatives’ business committee.
“What the bill says is if your apartment has no heat or hot water, if it’s infested with rodents or roaches, you shouldn’t have to pay and you shouldn’t have stay,” Romanoff says. “You should be able to leave if landlord doesn’t fix it in reasonable amount of time.”
The proposal would allow a tenant to break a lease if the landlord is notified in writing and refuses to fix a “major defect” within 30 days.
According to the bill, major defects include loss of heat, plumbing problems, major leaks or rodent infestations. The problem must continue for 48 hours. The tenant or any other entity, such as repairman from a public utility company, however, cannot cause those problems.
Romanoff, the assistant House minority leader, says he would like to shorten from 30 days the time a landlord has to fix a major defect.
“Colorado is one of only two states in nation, the other is Arkansas, that don’t have any statutory guarantee that an apartment you rent is habitable,” he says. “All you can do is appeal to the courts if you get sued when you try to leave one of these places and hope the court agrees the place is not livable.”
Locally, there is disagreement over whether Colorado law favors landlords or tenants. Laurie Bower, a former Eagle County Housing official, says landlords now have much more power than their tenants.
“I’ve heard claims the laws are supposed to protect tenants,” Bower says. “The realty of the matter is there aren’t very many specific laws in place that do protect them.”
“I think the balance is really good – especially here in Vail Valley,” says Lisa Agett of Vail Property Sales and Management, who’s been in the business for 20 years. Agett says. “I have mostly run into owners who will jump through hoops to get things done as quickly as possible for tenants.”
Agett says landlords in the valley will exert themselves to solve tenants’ problems – hiring a plumber, for example, at time-and-a-half to fix water heaters that break late at night or on weekends.
“From what I’ve seen here in valley, owners care a great deal about their tenants’ comfort,” she says. “I would hate to see landlords taken advantage because of this law passing.”
There may be less landlord-tenant problems in the valley because of the valley’s affluence, Agett says. There are advantages to renting, she adds.
“I am a homeowner,” Agett says. “If something breaks, I have to live with it. I can’t move out.”
But Bower calls the proposal, “a step in the right direction.”
“In general, the laws are more structured toward landlords,” she says. “Major issues – pretty serious things – need to be handled, like heat, plumbing and the mold issue. There are certainly some horror stories out there.”
Tenants shouldn’t have to go to the courts for help, Bower says.
“I’ve received quite a few calls in the past year from people having problems with landlords, such as mold and mildew the landlord was not curing and tenants’ health actually at stake,” Bower says. “A lot of situations a tenant can get an attorney’s help, but some tenants can’t afford an attorney.”
Matt Lindvall, a Vail police officer who also works as an independent real estate broker, says the worst problems between tenants and landlords in the valley occur at the end of ski season. There are also disputes between roommates at that time of year when many people move out of the valley, Lindvall says.
Many who want to leave in the spring have signed leases that don’t expire until the fall, Lindvall says.
“This year’s actually been pretty good,” he says. “It might be two things: landlords and tenants are getting better educated; and the market isn’t so horrible as it used to be, which is obviously going to make the relationship between the two groups better.”
Lindvall says he doubts breaking a lease is a good solution because that would leave a tenant homeless. He says he’s seen far more problems with tenants damaging apartments than with landlords refusing to fix heating or plumbing.
“In reality, I think landlords are not as careful as they should be in managing their property,” Lindvall says.
The best way to avoid conflict is for everyone to sign a lease explaining what the landlord’s and the tenants’ responsibilities are, Lindvall says.
“Everyone should have a signed copy,” he says.
Romanoff’s bill would also force landlords to return a tenant’s security deposit sooner than the now mandated 60 days. In a compromise, the bill will propose shortening the time to 45 days, Romanoff says.
“That’s two weeks sooner,” he says.
Romanoff adds he’s not out to make the lives of honest landlords more difficult.
“I’m hoping to strike a decent compromise between the rights and responsibilities of tenants and landlords, and I think this bill errs on side on of the landlords,” Romanoff says. “I don’t have the desire to protect unscrupulous tenants any more than unscrupulous landlords.”
Matt Zalaznick can be reached at 949-0555, ext. 606, or via e-mail at
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