Nonprofit landlords in East Colfax pledge no evictions

And a statewide landlord group calls on its members to refrain from enforcing evictions
6 min. read
“Light Chamber” by Dennis Oppenheim in front of the Lindsey Flanigan Courthouse on Colfax Avenue. (Kevin J. Beaty/Denverite)

Updates with move on evictions by nonprofit landlords in East Colfax and statewide landlord group advising members to refrain from enforcing eviction orders.

Two nonprofits that own apartment complexes in Denver's East Colfax neighborhood won't be trying to evict tenants who can't pay the rent because of the economic impact of the coronavirus outbreak.

Monday's announcement from Hope Communities and Rocky Mountain Communities came the same day a statewide landlord industry called on its members to refrain from enforcing eviction orders.

In their announcement, Hope Communities and Rocky Mountain Communities said that in addition to holding off on evictions, they will not charge late fees or increase rents for at least two months. After that, the commitment is to be renewed monthly until either the height of the pandemic has passed or the nonprofits can no longer continue the measures. The goal is to support people who are sick or quarantined or have lost earnings because of the outbreak.

Tom Meyer, a resident of Hope Communities's Hidden Brook Apartments for 26 years, said in a statement that the announcement would help his neighbors who are struggling.

"Many of my neighbors are refugees and have low income and might not have the same access to public benefits that I do," said Meyer, who is retired and living on a fixed income. "By taking this action, these nonprofits are showing us that they support us and are showing compassion for the needs of the people they serve."

The nonprofits said their decision came out of talks with two community organizations, the East Colfax Neighborhood Association and the East Colfax Community Collective

In its announcement, the Colorado Apartment Association said it was "standing with" Gov. Jared Polis, who last week encouraged local law enforcement to focus on issues other than evictions and said people should not lose housing because of the economic impact of disease outbreak.

The association recommended that its members refrain from making people move out under eviction orders through April 30. The association also was advising members to waive late fees through April 30, avoid rent increases and create payment plans for tenants unable to pay rent because of loss of income linked to the coronavirus outbreak.

"Our industry is 100 percent committed to helping Coloradans during the COVID-19 pandemic," said Mark Williams, the association's executive vice president, referring to the disease caused by the coronavirus. "We are a partner and a resource for housing providers in Colorado and our hope is that the housing providers in the state share the resources we have available for residents and take seriously our guidelines ... By working together, we can ensure a promising Colorado rental community."

Williams's group also has compiled a guide that includes a list of programs across the state that can help tenants who are struggling to pay rent. Denver's Temporary Rental and Utility Assistance program, known as TRUA, for example, offers grants to help pay for utilities or to cover up to 80 percent of rent for those who meet income limits.

Mayor Michael Hancock had announced last week that sheriff's deputies would be deployed away from evictions until further notice. That means that in cases where court orders were issued before coronavirus slowed the legal system, deputies won't be knocking on the door to carry out a judge's order that a tenant surrender a home to the landlord.

The same day of the mayor's announcement, the Denver County Court issued a lengthy order about its operations being slowed because of the coronavirus outbreak. The court order included a "continuance" in eviction cases, meaning any hearing date to consider an eviction request would be pushed back to April. Landlords can still file legal requests for tenants to leave their property. And some might follow up the legal action with a direct approach to a tenant who is late with the rent to discuss an out-of-court  settlement. Landlords might pursue such a discussion with legal help, and tenants might want to consider legal help as well.

"In effect, the tenants can breathe, somewhat," said Megan K. O'Byrne, an attorney for  Colorado Legal Services, which offers legal help to low-income Coloradans.

Landlords can still file legal requests for tenants to leave their property. And some might follow up the legal action with a direct approach to a tenant who is late with the rent to discuss an out-of-court  settlement. Landlords might pursue such a discussion with legal help, and tenants might want to consider legal help as well.

Berhanu Ayele makes a living pushing wheelchairs for airline passengers who have difficulty walking. He said eviction is a very real possibility for him and other minimum wage workers at Denver airport.

Ayele lives in Aurora, where district courts will not be holding eviction hearings at least through April 3. Spokespersons for the sheriff's offices in Adams and Arapahoe counties also told The Sentinel, an Aurora newspaper, that those departments will not remove evicted residents from their homes.

Ayele said he welcomed such moves, but said state and even nationwide solutions are needed.

"It is better to act for the global problem together," Ayele said.

In a weekend statement, Colorado Attorney General Phil Weiser said courts in Denver and Mesa, Weld and Boulder counties are among those that have paused eviction proceedings.

"I urge all Colorado courts to join in recognizing the urgent need to pause all eviction orders during this (coronavirus) emergency," Weiser said. "Nobody should be without their home as we all grapple with this crisis."

O'Byrne worried that once courts start hearing evictions again, "there's going to be thousands and thousands of cases." While realistically courts would not be able to get through the backlog quickly, Jack Regenbogen, a lawyer with the Colorado Center on Law and Policy, called what O'Byrne described a possible "eviction bomb."

"What we need is a statewide moratorium on evictions," Regenbogen said.

However, Drew Hamrick, general counsel and senior vice president of government affairs for the Apartment Association of Metro Denver, was cautious about any moratorium. "Placing a moratorium on evictions is too broad a brushstroke with wide-ranging implications.

"Governments should not deprive citizens access to the court system because of a perceived crisis," Hamrick added. "It's during times of upheaval that citizens most need access to reasonable and effective courts the most."

Regenbogen, whose nonprofit is a think tank and advocacy group, recommended that tenants facing eviction proceedings "seek the assistance of Colorado Legal Services if possible, and to try to communicate with their landlord to come to a mutually agreed upon resolution if possible."

Regenbogen worked on   2017 report that showed that in eviction cases in Denver, landlords almost always are represented by lawyers, and tenants almost never are. Since then, O'Byrne said, Colorado Legal Services has hired more lawyers. State legislation last year established a legal defense fund for tenants facing eviction.

Still, O'Byrne said, "there's way more need than can be met.

"Hopefully we can find a way to help people stay housed despite the (coronavirus) crisis," she said.

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