If the shocked, soft “ohs” that greeted a prominent lawyer’s presentation were any indication, key details of laws governing tenant-landlord relations that emerged from this last legislative session were news to some.
Those moans were expelled after Mark Tschetter explained during a discussion Wednesday at the Apartment Association of Metro Denver’s annual trade show that tenants now can withhold some or all of their rent if they believe their landlords have failed to maintain safe, clean housing.
The change was part of the Safe & Healthy Homes Act that Gov. Jared Polis signed earlier this week. Proponents — including healthcare professionals and renters’ rights and affordable housing advocates — say the measure creates important protections for renters. It was opposed on the grounds that it put too much burden on landlords by the apartment association and by Tschetter, who helped write a decade-old measure that was amended by the Safe & Healthy Homes Act.
Tschetter, whose Tschetter, Hamrick & Sulzer firm specializes in evictions, focused Wednesday on advising landlords and apartment complex managers on their responsibilities now that Safe & Healthy Homes and other measures are law. Among other measures is one requiring apartment owners to itemize how they use application fees from potential tenants and make an effort to refund any portion of the fees they don’t use. Another increases from three to 10 days the time tenants have to correct an issue such as late rent before a landlord can start eviction proceedings.
One man in the audience of about 100 asked Tschetter jokingly: “Do you know of any loopholes in any of these laws?”
Tschetter offered advice to help landlords cope. For example, the safe homes act spells out that tenants can give written notice of a possible breach of the safe homes act electronically, using the email address, digital portal or, for text messages, cell phone number indicated in a lease. If the lease fails to specify, any form of communication already established between the tenant and the landlord can be used. Tschetter urged landlords to specify in the lease and to corral such communications to a dedicated address to make them easier to manage.
Managing communications clearly and consistently and documenting them was at the heart of much of Tschetter’s advice. He also called on landlords to be more politically active to get “pro-business” lawmakers in if they did not like what came out of the legislative session.
Speaking to Denverite after his presentation, Tschetter said most landlords already adhere to the new legislation.
“One, two percent of the bad landlords are responsible for 100 percent of the legislation,” he said.
But he said tools existed to address the egregious behavior targeted in the new laws, and expressed concern of unintended consequences, including time in court to pin down aspects he saw as unclear.