Polis’ executive order offers more time, but Colorado tenants' fear of mass evictions remains

The LOFTS Apartments in Montrose, Colorado.

The Colorado Department of Labor and Employment in its latest report announced a decline in unemployment claims for the seventh consecutive week. After reaching as high as 104,217 claims for the week ending April 11, claims have been on a steady decline as the state begins to open back up with guidelines and restrictions.

Although claims are declining, many were out of work during the closures, and in consideration of people’s inability to pay rent, Gov. Jared Polis ordered an eviction moratorium. He said Colorado residents can’t help fight the virus if they don’t have a home.

He did not extend the moratorium earlier, but he offered tenants some more time.

Polis issued an executive order Sunday night that temporarily suspends the 10-day notice landlords usually issue tenants when there is non-payment and the landlord initiates eviction proceedings. Per the order, landlords must give 30 days notice to tenants, and during this period, “tenants shall have the opportunity to cure any default for nonpayment,” the order reads.

“Through this Executive Order, I encourage landlords to take steps to limit evictions for tenants who have made a good faith effort to make rental payments or who have made a good faith effort to establish a repayment agreement, and I direct the Department of Local Affairs (DOLA) to work with COVID-impacted landlords and tenants to create reasonable payment plans that allow tenants to remain in their residences while we return Coloradans to work safely,” Polis said in a statement through the order.

Landlords are also prohibited from issuing late fees for non-payments between May 1 and June 13.

As per the repayment plans, for those experiencing financial hardship due to the virus, Polis directed DOLA to work with landlords to assist those individuals with the plans.

Also noted in the order is a person is not relieved from the obligation to make mortgage or rent payments.

The Denver Post reported there was hope from state senators that Polis would extend the eviction moratorium through October, which Polis originally ordered on April 30 and extended for 15 days on May 29. However, those efforts collapsed in the state Senate.

According to research developed by co-founders Zach Neumann and Sam Gilman of the COVID-19 Eviction Defense Project (CEDP), more than 400,000 Coloradans will face eviction risk in the months ahead, leaking into the fall; communities of color, low income workers, and those who are undocumented are most vulnerable.

Neumann told the Montrose Daily Press on Wednesday the latest order from Polis does not offer protection for tenants. "They can and will be evicted from their homes," he said. 

Once Polis’ order expires, landlords are able to begin eviction proceedings, sue tenants for unpaid rent, all while those tenants face debt and damaged credit history, Neumann and Gilman said in their analysis.

As stated in a study developed by Gilman and Marc Dorado, titled “Reducing Eviction Risk in Colorado,” landlords must pay mortgages and property taxes, and non-payment from tenants affects a landlord’s ability to make those payments. Landlords who own small-unit buildings are further at risk of increased losses, since those buildings are usually occupied by low-income renters.

"It's definitely not a versus scenario. Both landlords and tenants face a lot of risk. Tenants face the risk of being homeless, and landlords face the risk of not paying mortgage and losing property of their own," Neumann said.

The study, released on May 27, also tackled financial information regarding eviction risk. In the study, Gilman and Dorado estimate debt accumulated by the 400,000 tenants at-risk to reach around $765 million.

If there is no recovery, by the end of 2020, the debt could reach $1.6 billion.

"There is a small amount of money allocated to housing and funds. The issue, though, is the scale of need is going to be gigantic. It's going to be enormous," Neumann said. 

"In the absence of the federal government stepping in through a second wave of CARES Act funding, it's unlikely the resource pool will be able to meet the demand." 

In Part 2 of the study, Gilman and Dorado address the impact evictions have on families.

Citing a 2018 study by the Wagner School of Public Service at New York University titled, “The Effects of Evictions on Low-Income Households,” evictions cause “increased risk of homelessness, housing insecurity and instability, and negative health outcomes for those evicted.”

To remedy the situation and limit the damage, Dorado and Gilman recommend three different policies, two of which buy more time for landlords/tenants and decrease the possible damage to tenants. In addition, cash support from the federal government would provide increased assistance over the next few months.

On Saturday, CEDP published a letter co-signed by 37 different organizations, 53 elected officials and former elected officials, and 68 community members in support of keeping residents housed. The letter was in response to the Senate’s inability to prohibit evictions during the COVID-19 crisis.

The CEDP also stated in the letter once unemployment benefits under the CARES Act expire in late July, hundreds of thousands will be unable to pay bills. The $600 a week tenants were receiving will vanish, and will force even more evictions.

The Montrose Daily Press reached out to local property managers, but did not receive an immediate response for comment.

Neumann and Gilman’s analysis PDF can be viewed here. More information can be found on the CEDP’s website.

Josue Perez is a staff writer for the Montrose Daily Press

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