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Published in the November 16, 2017,  edition of the Lyons Recorder.

COMMENTARY: What’s the future of affordable housing in Lyons?

Tenant and landlord rights and resources

by Amy Reinholds

Relationships between tenants and landlords, and the laws and contracts that define these relationships, can affect both the finances of the individual tenants and landlords, but also how many homes in a community are affordable to the low and middle-income households who need them. If we want to look at affordable housing at a national or local level, understanding rights, protections, and resources for both tenants and landlords is one of the tools to understand possible solutions.

I recently finished reading Evicted by Matthew Desmond, and I also attended a November landlord training event held by City of Longmont Community and Neighborhood Resources that gave a helpful overview of some of our local Colorado laws and resources in Boulder County.

There are only four Colorado state laws that address landlords and tenants, Susan Spaulding, Community Relations Specialist with the City of Longmont, explained in her presentation “The Landlord/Tenant Relationship: A User’s Guide.” Colorado Revised Statute 13-40-101 addresses Forcible Entry and Detainer, or evictions. C.R.S. 38-12-102 covers security deposits. C.R.S 38-12-505 addresses Warrant of Habitability, and C.R.S. 38-20-116 covers abandoned property. Even though the state law defines the eviction process, the eviction court is part of Boulder County court.

There is also the Federal Fair Housing Act, which makes it unlawful for a landlord to discriminate by refusing to rent based on race, color, religion, national origin, gender, familial status, or disability, or by negotiating terms, conditions or privileges different from other tenants based on those characteristics. For example, Spaulding told landlords that if they screen or run background checks on an individual tenant, they should do it for all tenants. Colorado state law also provides protections against discrimination based on ancestry, creed, marital status, and sexual orientation.

Beyond those federal and state statutes, the only other way to define the tenant and landlord relationship is through the lease contract, Spaulding said. She said that because the lease is the core of the relationship, both tenants and landlords should make sure they know and understand all the details of the lease that they sign.

“There is no such thing as a standard lease,” Spaulding said. The State of Colorado doesn’t require landlords use a particular lease, and the lease can define a wide range of requirements that the tenant and landlord both agree to when signing that lease. “There is no law that says a landlord can’t raise rent every year or that a landlord can’t enter the property,” she said. “The core of the tenant-landlord relationship is contractual.”

Spaulding described specifics related to the state laws, and also shared best practices for landlords, including clauses to include in a lease. To start off, she highlighted the unique goals and views of landlords and tenants. Landlords view the rental unit as an asset and the relationship as a commercial business, and tenants view the rental unit as a home, and the relationship as a personal negotiation for a place to live. “For the tenant, it’s an emotional investment, not just a financial investment,” she said.

Under the Warranty of Habitability state law, tenant responsibilities are to only let those listed on the lease live there, to use the premises in a safe and clean manner, and to not damage the premises. The landlord responsibilities are that the residential premises is fit for habitation, and the landlord is providing a functional bundle of services with the premises, maintaining them in working order. Spaulding said the law is really written for landlords and doesn’t benefit tenants other than providing a way they can leave and break the lease if they follow all required steps to properly notify landlords two times of the uninhabitable condition, and the landlord has not responded.

Under the state law about security deposits, landlords can keep all or a portion of the security deposit for unpaid rent owed, cleaning charges that were agreed to in the lease, damages beyond normal wear and tear, any other breach of the leases agreement that causes financial damage to the landlord, such as unpaid utility bills.

Under the state law about evictions, landlords must obtain a Writ of Restitution from the eviction court to forcibly remove tenants. They cannot do it on their own by changing the locks or shutting off utilities.

Do you want to share your experiences of trying to find affordable housing in Boulder County? There are two online surveys that are open this month collecting data that will inform future policy decisions.

1) The Live/Work Survey: Boulder County, Denver, and Aurora are conducting a study to better understand residents’ housing decisions and their experiences living, working, or going to school in the region. This survey is an important part of that research. Your input will inform decisions regarding housing planning. This survey is not associated with a ballot issue or political poll. It is expected that the survey will take approximately 15 minutes to complete, and at the end of the survey you can enter for a chance to win a $100 Visa gift card. Responses are completely confidential and will only be reported in combination with other responses. The deadline to complete the survey is November 30: www.surveymonkey.com/r/DAB_AFH2017.

2) Boulder County Community Health Assessment 2017. What do you think Boulder County residents need most in the next five years to live a healthy life – improved mental health or healthy housing? One issue will be selected as the focus for Boulder County Public Health and community partners for the next five years. At www.bouldercounty.org/departments/public-health/community-health-assessment-priority-setting you can review information and graphics that show an overview of the housing and mental health issues facing people living in Boulder County and then cast your vote online. Boulder County also planned to hold a community meeting November 15 to collect in-person votes.

What’s going on here in Lyons? There are no specific ordinances about the tenant-landlord relationship in Town of Lyons code. However, the Lyons Human Services & Aging Commission, a volunteer commission that advises the elected Lyons Board of Trustees, is compiling a list of federal, state, and county links and information resources for tenants and landlords that can be made available on the Town of Lyons website. For example, the HUD Tenant Rights, Laws, and Protections Colorado page at www.hud.gov/states/colorado/renting/tenantrights, The Colorado Renter’s Guide from the the Colorado Apartment Association at www.caahq.org/main/colorado-renters-guide, and Frequently Asked Questions for landlords about Section 8 vouchers at www.bouldercounty.org/families/housing/frequently-asked-questions/#landlordsfaq.

Resources related to housing rights/discrimination are the Denver Metro Fair Housing Center at www.dmfhc.org, the Colorado Civil Rights Division at www.colorado.gov/pacific/dora/civil-rights/housing-discrimination, the Colorado Cross-Disability Coalition at www.ccdconline.org, and Colorado Legal Aid at coloradolegalservices.org. There are also free legal clinics at the Longmont Senior Center, 910 Longs Peal Avenue, four times a year. The next two are November 28 and February 27, from 5:30-7:30 p.m.

This column is a weekly commentary (opinion column) in the Lyons Recorder about affordable housing after the September 2013 flood disaster in Lyons. If you have any questions, comments, or complaints about this column, please contact me directly at areinholds @ hotmail.com. The Town of Lyons lost a total of about 70 flood-destroyed homes to both the federal buyout programs (including the 16 homes in the Foothills Mobile Home Park) and to the changed use of the Riverbend Mobile Home Park property, where 32 families used to live, to an event venue (rezoned for commercial use). For a history of post-flood efforts for affordable housing in Lyons – including a proposal for subsidized, affordable Boulder County Housing Authority rentals and some Habitat for Humanity for-sale affordable homes (a total of 50-70 units) on five to seven acres of Bohn Park that was voted down 614 to 498 by Town of Lyons voters in March 2015, and the land at 2nd and Park that Habitat for Humanity bought to build 3 duplexes – you can read previous columns from both Lyons-area newspapers posted on my blog at lyonscoloradonews.wordpress.com.