It does not appear that the people and politicians advocating for a rent and mortgage freeze in Colorado will get their way.
But a group of Democratic state lawmakers say they’re intent on introducing a bill to bring relief in other ways to people whose housing status is threatened by unemployment or lost wages due to the recession brought on by the coronavirus.
Gov. Jared Polis doesn’t believe he has the legal authority to amend the terms of private contracts, and it’s not clear that he’d support such a step if he were convinced he had the power.
Since the Capitol shut down March 14, Polis and the executive branch alone have been responsible for new, emergency laws in the state, and, on housing and other topics, legislators are looking forward to being able to take action for the first time in two months. They’re slated to resume the 2020 legislative session at the end of May.
Specifically, lawmakers are concerned about housing insecurity once courts reopen, and evictions are allowed to proceed once again. Polis — who for weeks early in the coronavirus response sidestepped questions about freezing rent — took his boldest action to date in this area on May 1, issuing an order that included a moratorium on evictions and foreclosures in May, and a prohibition on landlords and lenders charging late fees.
These are temporary protections. Like many renters and homeowners, state Rep. Serena Gonzales-Gutierrez, D-Denver, is worried about what’ll happen when they wear off.
“It was a great first step for Polis to put out the latest executive order,” she said, “but my concern lies with the aftermath, and the concern around evictions piling up and being filed as soon as those courts are opened.”
That threat is what has led advocates around the state to call for a freeze on rent and mortgages. Temporary moratoria, they say, won’t protect them down the road, and neither will some of the most common relief programs landlords are offering, including payment plans and deferment.
There are many who’ve organized in cities around the state on this issue, and who in some cases have even taken coordinated, hyperlocal rent-strike actions. It’s not just grassroots activists issuing this call; Denver City Council issued a proclamation calling on Polis to temporarily freeze rent and mortgage payments.
Councilwoman Robin Kniech, who is an attorney, said the proclamation should not convey that the council has concluded the governor is authorized to order a freeze.
“A proclamation is a conversation starter,” she said. “That’s our intent — to say this is the way the world should work. … It’s not a policy.”
There are lawmakers who would like to see a freeze. But it doesn’t appear any of them believe the legislature has that authority, and so it is off the table for now, confirmed four different lawmakers, including House Speaker KC Becker, D-Boulder.
Instead, Rep. Steven Woodrow, D-Denver, said, about 10 lawmakers are looking at other solutions. None of the options they’re considering are as broad as a freeze.
The bill they intend to bring is in drafting now, and, lawmakers said, it will likely include some longer-term codification of orders Polis has issued. It appears likely the bill will seek to extend the eviction and foreclosure moratorium, which for now only applies to May, and that they’ll do the same for the late-fee ban.
Kniech said she also hopes the lawmakers will support an extension of the “cure” period for people who may lose housing due to nonpayment. This is the time someone who is late on a payment is given to come up with the money and keep their home. As it stands, landlords can pursue evictions after 10 days of nonpayment and can continue with that pursuit even if the resident comes up with the money on, say, day 11.
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