The number of people facing evictions in Denver County Court fell during 2020 and 2021.
Add up the 2,912 eviction filings of 2020 and the 4,894 filings of 2021 and there were a total of 7,806 filings in those two years, a figure lower than the average seen in a whole year since 2009.
Compare that to 2022: Denver County Court received 8,879 filings in one year alone.
Evictions can be costly for property owners. But for renters, they can be devastating, leading to homelessness, suicide, addiction and other mental and physical health problems, according to reports from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development.
“Evictions drive generational poverty,” said eviction defense attorney Zach Neumann, head of the Community Economic Defense Project. “Following an eviction, workers are often forced to leave or quit jobs, kids do worse in school, physical and mental health declines, and families often break up.”
The number of eviction filings is useful in understanding the housing crisis — but it does not take into account every person who lost a home.
Some self-evict before the landlord files in court. Those numbers are not tracked. Not every eviction filing heads to a sheriff-served eviction. Some are resolved ahead of a ruling.
This year’s higher number of eviction filings is fairly standard in the Denver rental market.
Since 2009, 116,675 households have faced eviction in court — or roughly 8,333 a year — a number that includes the pandemic drop. Without those two years in the mix, there have been around 9,000 eviction filings a year since 2009.
In the last six months of 2022, the number of Denver eviction filings was 5,165. That’s roughly 10% higher than the 4,641 filed in the same period of 2019 and higher than numbers in the same timeframe since 2009.
But it’s not out of a normal range, said Drew Hamrick, the senior vice president of government affairs for the Apartment Association of Metro Denver, a trade group for landlords.
“We’re seeing normal healthy levels right now, and all looks good from my perspective,” Hamrick said.
Here’s how evictions work.
Landlords warn tenants they must pay or move out. That process must be documented. If that warning goes unheeded, the landlord files a complaint in court. Eviction filing numbers document those complaints.
In court, tenants have a chance to fight for their home. They can negotiate to stay in their place. They can prove the landlord’s cause for eviction is flawed.
Those tenants with legal support are more likely to stay housed.
Resolving most no-payment eviction filings without kicking a tenant out often benefits both the renter and the property owner.
“Evictions are extremely expensive for the housing providers because they take about three months,” said Hamrick. “So there’s three months lost rent, which, if you figure $1,500-ish for average rent, that’s about $5,000 lost right there. And then the eviction process costs about $1,000 dollars. So housing providers are in for a $6,000 loss if they have to go down that route. So it’s absolutely the course of last resort for the housing provider because they lose so much money on it.”
But tenants regularly fail to show up for court. How can you afford a lawyer if you can’t afford rent? Some tenants are not aware that if they are making less than 80% of the area median income they can receive free legal support in Denver. (AMI is currently $82,100 for a single person in Denver.)
If a judge rules against the tenants or the landlords win by default because the tenants don’t show, the residents must either move on their own or sheriff’s deputies show up to serve the evictions and remove the tenants and their belongings from the premises. Landlords do not have the right to do so.
Hamrick notes the court hearing gives both property owners and renters due process.
Why was there a drop in eviction filings in 2020 and 2021?
“In 2020, the State of Colorado and the U.S. Government both implemented overlapping eviction moratoriums, barring landlords from evicting tenants from their homes,” explained Neumann. “This dramatically cut the number of evictions during the first year of the pandemic.”
The federal government also passed emergency rental assistance funding to be administrated by city and state governments. That funding gave eviction defense attorneys leverage in court to help tenants pay the money they owed and keep their places.
During the pandemic, many landlords also showed grace to tenants, even beyond when the federal eviction moratorium was lifted on Oct. 3, 2021. Doing so ensured the property owners would still have tenants long-term, in case renters were hard to find.
The 2022 rise in eviction filings did not take place until the second half of 2022.
In recent months, emergency rent assistance funding has wound down, and no more federal dollars have been allocated for it.
Both the City of Denver and the State of Colorado have quit taking new applications for their federally funded Emergency Rental Assistance Program.
“The end of this program will eliminate the state’s most powerful tool to keep people in their homes,” Neumann said.
Lawmakers could decide to renew funding for emergency rental assistance.
“The State of Colorado and city governments should invest in permanent rental assistance for tenants who are at risk of eviction and homelessness,” Neumann said. “Without state and local investment in housing stability programs like rental assistance, we’d expect eviction and displacement will increase.”
The Colorado Economic Defense Project wants state and city governments to invest in eviction diversion programs that include a mix of rental assistance and legal aid. The group also wants state lawmakers to increase protections for renters facing eviction.
Hamrick said there are lessons to be learned from the government-funded housing programs of the pandemic era. Prior to COVID-19, federal funding was mired in red tape and unequipped to respond to households in a state of emergency. Instead, those ongoing programs offer long-term support and do little for people facing personal crises.
Federal funding should be shifted from long-term support toward helping people with non-reoccurring, temporary financial setbacks, Hamrick said.
“The government can provide a backstop to that, and that’s a very healthy thing to have,” Hamrick said.
If you’re facing eviction, Denver offers some resources to help you stay housed.