Mayor Hancock says sheriff deputies won’t carry out evictions

What amounts to a suspension of evictions will be in place until further notice amid concern about the economic impact of the new coronavirus.
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Mayor Michael Hancock, flanked by Bob McDonald, the director of Denver Department of Public Health and Environment on his right. March 2, 2020. (David Sachs/Denverite)

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Denver sheriff deputies will be holding back on carrying out evictions amid concerns about the economic impact of the new coronavirus.

"Now is not the time to be evicting people from their housing," Mayor Michael Hancock said at a news conference Monday. "We are temporarily deploying, redeploying our sheriff's deputies away from evictions."

Hancock said what amounts to a suspension of evictions would be in place until further notice.

At the same news conference, teh mayor announced he was ordering an eight-week closure starting Tuesday of bars, and said restaurants can only be open for takeout and drive-thru orders. He also banned events with 50 or more people, with some exceptions, including grocery stores, pharmacies, food banks and homeless shelters. Public health officials hope such steps will slow the spread of the coronavirus by limiting person-to-person contact. The measures will hit an economy already shaken by volatility on the stock market, the cancellation of concerts, sporting events and conventions and slowdowns in productivity as workers retreat to their homes, in some cases to care for children whose schools have closed.

Cities from San Francisco to Boston have moved to address evictions since the coronavirus crisis emerged.

Jack Regenbogen, a lawyer with the Colorado Center on Law and Policy, a nonprofit think tank and advocacy group, said the mayor's step on evictions was "good news."  But deputies act after a judge has ordered an eviction, and Hancock's move to divert the law enforcement officers to other duties did not address the issue of tenants being taken to court in the first place, added Regenbogen.

Regenbogen helped produce a 2017 report that showed that in eviction cases in Denver, landlords almost always are represented by lawyers and tenants almost never are. Someone seeking housing who has an eviction record can struggle to find another landlord.

Regenbogen said what was needed was a statewide moratorium on the filing of eviction court cases by landlords.

"I do know that the state's powers are pretty expansive," he said.

In a statement Monday, Drew Hamrick, who is general counsel and senior vice president of government affairs for the Apartment Association of Metro Denver, signaled landlords would oppose intervention in the court process.

"Access to courts is a vital government function and necessary for society and commerce to function," Hamrick said. "Governments should not deprive citizens access to the court system because of a perceived crisis. It's during times of upheaval that citizens most need access to reasonable and effective courts the most."

But Hamrick also said that "everyone wins when residents can stay in their homes."

"Housing providers depend on customers to make their mortgage payments, pay their employees, and compensate vendors. Most housing providers realize that it benefits themselves and their residents to be flexible regarding payment schedules and late fees and those arrangements are best made between residents and housing providers. That said, only those residents experiencing a true emergency should ask for flexibility in paying their rent as housing providers depend on rent payment to pay employees and repay loans."

Last week the Adams County housing authority, Maiker Housing Partners, announced a 60-day moratorium on late fees "in the face of the developing COVID-19 state of emergency and its impact on our local economy." Over the weekend, Xcel Energy announced it would not disconnect residential electric or natural gas service until further notice "as communities and families face the challenges caused by the spread of COVID-19," the disease caused by the new coronavirus. The utility comopany also said it would work with customers facing financial difficulties to arrange payment plans.

At the same news conference at which Hancock announced that deputies would focusing on tasks other than evictions, Britta Fisher, who heads the city's housing department, offered the city's rental assistance grant fund that was started in 2017 as a resource to anyone struggling with paying their rent. Renters facing a crisis such the loss of a job can apply to the Temporary Rental and Utility Assistance program, known as TRUA, for help pay for utilities or to cover up to 80 percent of their rent. Renters must meet income limits to qualify for the city grants.

Tim Roberts, president of East Colfax Neighborhood Association, said his organization was working on ways to spread the word about TRUA, a program that he said could "keep people afloat."

The East  Colxfax Neighborhood Association also had lobbied city officials to act on evictions. Roberts said he had heard from neighbors about job loss and fear of losing housing.

"A lot of folks in East Colfax are going to have those kinds of experiences," Roberts said.

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