Sen. Kerry Donovan, lawyers aim to help Eagle County renters avoid eviction
River Run tenants in EagleVail were considering a rent strike
With May 1 rent deadlines looming, State Sen. Kerry Donovan is receiving credit for helping local renters through the power of posting on social media.
On Twitter last week, Donovan accused Alliance Residential, which owns River Run in EagleVail, of evicting tenants during the pandemic.
.@AllianceLiving can you comment on your evictions of people in Avon, CO? The state is still in an eviction moritorium but you are kicking families out. Eagle County was one of the hardest hit areas of the country and this is your response? #copolitics— Kerry Donovan (@KerryDonovanSD5) April 22, 2020
Alliance Residential responded saying the company has not processed or initiated evictions at River Run, and that the confusion was likely the result of an auto-generated communication sent out to “certain residents who had not responded to our outreach to discuss their rent.”
The company acknowledged that the communication may have been interpreted as intent to evict.
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One resident at River Run, also communicating with Alliance Residential through Twitter, proposed the idea of a rent strike. A week later, she received a response from a Vice News reporter writing about rent strikes in New York City.
“Our strike is on hold,” the EagleVail resident responded. “We were able to get a CO senator to reach out to our property manager, and now they are willing to give us options including partial payment plans & deferring the late fees.”
Hey, would be happy to chat but our strike is on hold. We were able to get a CO senator to reach out to our property manager, and now they are willing to give us options including partial payment plans & deferring late fees. We were able to make things happen for now!— Emmy (@TheValiantLife) April 24, 2020
May 1 rent
Donovan, who represents Eagle County in the state legislature, attended a virtual renter’s forum on Monday, hosted by the town of Avon and featuring Avon town attorney Paul Wisor and Kory Pryor, a lawyer who handles landlord-tenant issues in Eagle County.
Avon Town Councilmember Jake Wolf, who helped initiate the meeting, said with the clock ticking on Gov. Jared Polis’ request to landlords — in March Polis asked landlords to stall evictions through the end of April — nervousness about mounting bills is apparent in the community.
“(People) are just packing up and bailing,” Wolf said. “It’s not really clear what’s going to happen on May 1.”
Donovan said she has been talking with Polis about finding ways to encourage landlords to avoid evictions. While Polis has issued orders to disallow state resources to be used to facilitate evictions, i.e. the Colorado State Patrol, the governor has not issued any orders freezing eviction proceedings in the state during the crisis.
Polis said as governor he does not have legal ability to suspend rent or evictions outright.
“Suspending the sanctity of contract is not within the emergency powers of any governor or president,” Polis’ office told Westword Magazine, in response to requests for him to impose a rent moratorium in Colorado.
While the state legislature could undertake such action, Donovan said it’s not likely anytime soon, and not only for the fact that the legislature won’t be in session for another three weeks.
“If we passed law that suspended or banned the eviction process, that bill would also have to address how to keep landlords and those small businesses or large businesses whole through that process,” Donovan said. “The state budget right now is facing a $2.5 to $3 billion dollar shortfall, and so looking for additional funds to support new programs or new ideas is quite a tall hurdle right now.”
Avon has chipped in to help the Vail Valley Salvation Army’s rent assistance program. Wisor also said the town of Avon will provide mediation services to help landlords and tenants avoid court and eviction proceedings, and Pryor said he provides free legal advice and mediation services through a nonprofit agency, as well.
Wisor said in a mediation scenario, landlords are likely to ask tenants if they have applied for unemployment, and if not, has their employer applied for Paycheck Protection Program loans to keep paying them.
Conversely, Wisor said, tenants are well within their rights in asking landlords if they’ve asked their lender for forbearance on their mortgage, or if they have applied for an Economic Injury Disaster Loan.
For landlords seeking loan modifications to help avoid payments during the crisis, Pryor said he is seeing a high degree of willingness from lenders to work through the issues surrounding forbearance.
“There’s a high probability that if your landlord does have a mortgage, there is some relief available,” Pryor told tenants on Monday. “If you’re on the tenant side, I’d be prepared to get some financial information together, if you’re having financial distress … And ask your landlord — have you called your lender up?”
Keep your communication in writing, Wisor and Pryor recommended. If you’re a tenant who is able to show financial distress, and your landlord has not sought mortgage relief, you increase your chances of a favorable outcome in court.
“If you’re a landlord, and you’re just saying the rent’s due May 1 and I don’t care about your situation, I wouldn’t want to represent that landlord in court,” Pryor said. “Because I think those judges are going to have a little more leniency than what you might be used to seeing.”
Pryor said keeping tenants in place is the right thing to do at the moment.
However, “Take the ethics out of it, it’s more expensive, it takes a lot more time to get through the eviction proceedings,” Pryor said. “So I really think from the landlord’s side, if they can work together, it’s really going to make more sense to keep that tenant in there.”
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When a crowd of around 500 people showed up in Vail on Tuesday night to join a protest march in support of Black Lives Matter, the gathering plainly violated Eagle County’s current COVID-19 recommendations.