Bill introduced in Colorado Senate calls for allowing local governments to enact their own rent control measures

The proposal does not include a statewide standard as Oregon did in February.

Apartments for rent in Washington Park West. (Kevin J. Beaty/Denverite)

Apartments for rent in Washington Park West. (Kevin J. Beaty/Denverite)

Donna Bryson. (Kevin J. Beaty/Denverite)

A bill to overturn a 1981 Colorado law banning rent control has been introduced in the Colorado Senate.

The bill sponsored by four Denver Democrats — including one who also has constituents in Jefferson County — calls for allowing local governments to enact their own rent stabilization measures if they choose. It does not propose imposing a statewide standard as Oregon did in February when its governor signed a law limiting landlords to rent increases of no more than 7 percent plus inflation, and to raising rents only annually.

The Colorado “General Assembly intends to give local governments an additional and meaningful resource to expand the supply of affordable housing in their communities and to enable low-income and working-class residents to live in the communities in which they work, thereby preventing the displacement of their residents,” senators Julie Gonzales and Robert Rodriguez and representatives Susan Lontine and Serena Gonzales-Gutierrez said in their legislation to “Authorize Local Governments To Stabilize Rent.”

SB19-225’s introduction “is a huge deal,” said Celeste Martinez, Denver-based organizing director for United for a New Economy. Her Colorado grassroots organization is part of a national network whose priorities include affordable housing, and she has worked with the advocacy group 9to5 Colorado to persuade legislators to take on rent control.

“Instead of going down the path that Oregon has set in place, we thought … local control was the best path,” Martinez said. “For Colorado to have its own path, that seems most aligned with our values as a state and to offer the greatest scope in addressing the housing crisis.”

Martinez called lack of rent control “one of the major barriers to the housing crisis.”

But Nancy Burke, vice president of government affairs for the landlords’ group the Apartment Association of Metro Denver, called capping rents unnecessary “government involvement” that could lead smaller landlords, who she said are most likely to offer lower rents, to abandon the business or defer maintenance.

“We’re reducing the supply with rent control,” she said.

Landlords have argued that new supply is finally starting to bring prices down. In January, Burke’s group reported that average Denver area rents peaked last year at $1,484 in the second quarter before falling to $1,465 in the third quarter and $1,456 in the fourth.

“What really matters is just more supply. It’s that simple,” Burke said.

“I know it’s been a tough couple of years for folks. But it’s turning,” she said, referring to the market.

According to government figures, an estimated 87 percent of Denver’s renter households earn less than $35,000 a year. That $1,456 a month in rent would eat up half the annual income of a family earning $35,000; it is recommended that a household spend no more than a third of its income on housing.

The morning after the bill’s introduction late Monday, the Colorado Apartment Association, a landlords group, released the results of a poll conducted last month that showed fewer than one in five Colorado voters believed rent control would have the “most positive impact” when it came to addressing housing affordability. The other choices presented to 500 registered voters included building more housing and increasing direct assistance to renters. The poll by the Austin, Texas firm Baselice & Associates had a margin of error of 4.4 percentage points.

In a statement Tuesday, Mark Windhager, president of the Colorado Apartment Association, said, “Public-private partnerships for developing more affordable housing, particularly along transit corridors, should be at the forefront of our state’s efforts to create more affordable housing units.”

Windhager cited Denver’s Lower Income Voucher Equity Program, or LIVE Denver, which has a goal of providing subsidies to 125 families earning between 40 and 80 percent of the area median income to get them into vacant market-rate apartments. Earlier this year the first three families to benefit from LIVE Denver were able to move into apartments. The city devoted to the program just over $1 million, most from its dedicated affordable housing fund. The Apartment Association of Metro Denver connects landlords to the program.

SB19-225, to “Authorize Local Governments to Stabilize Rent,” is one of several that have tackled landlord-tenant and affordable housing issues during a busy legislative session.

Awaiting the governor’s signature is a measure that would make it easier for tenants to pressure landlords they accuse of failing to maintain habitable housing. It would, for example, allow tenants under certain circumstances to deduct the cost of repairs from the rent and to inform landlords of problems via email instead of only by snail mail. It also would add the presence of mold to conditions such as broken windows or noncompliance with health and building codes that would warrant a finding that an apartment was uninhabitable.

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