Boulder, Elections, Featured, Original Report, Sherrie Peif, Uncategorized

Boulder measure would slap costs on rental owners to fund eviction defense for tenants

BOULDER — A place that is already one of the most expensive cities to live in Colorado, may see that cost pushed even higher if a renters’ advocacy group gets an initiative on the ballot that would force higher fees on rental property owners.

No Eviction Without Representation (NEWR) Boulder is attempting to collect 3,300 valid signatures of registered Boulder voters. They want a proposal on the ballot that would increase the rental license fee for residential property owners by 285 percent annually. They have until Friday to collect the signatures. Boulder City Council ruled they must collect those in person.

Currently, residential rental property owners pay $105 every four years per rental unit for a license to operate. The fee covers the cost of inspections and other regulatory items associated with the license.

However, NEWR wants an additional $75 per year per year that would go toward a fund that would guarantee tenants facing eviction would have legal representation to help protect their rights, the group’s website says.

“The vast majority of tenants don’t even come to court, which leads to a default judgment in favor of the landlord, an automatic eviction,” the website reads. “With the help of an attorney, evictions can be resolved in other ways. The right to legal counsel will get more tenants into the courtroom, increase their chances of staying in their housing, and most of all help renters and landlords reach alternative resolutions that are far less harmful than an eviction.”

Boulder’s cost of living is ranked as the highest in Colorado in 2020 according to Homesnacks, an online publication that ranks the livability of cities nationwide in more than 60 different categories, including cost of living, using date collected from the U.S. Census Bureau, the FBI, OpenStreetMaps and many others.

At the same time, in December 2019 RentCafe listed Boulder rental costs also the highest in the state at an average of $1,983 per month, more than $500 higher than the national average at $1,469.

On its website, RentCafe says it uses data from the U.S. Census Bureau, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development and other government and third-party databases.

NEWR defines itself as a “diverse coalition of renters … motivated by the belief that stable, affordable housing is essential to a quality life. At the same time, we know that any among us could be suddenly faced with a loss of job, change of relationship, family death, or medical emergency that would leave us unable to make the month’s rent.”

Although NEWR says Boulder has an “eviction epidemic,” Todd Ulrich, president of the Boulder Area Rental Housing Association (BARHA) disagreed, saying Boulder has one of the lowest evictions rates in the state (slightly more than 2 percent), adding in 20 years of managing property he has only filed for eviction six times, with the last time was more than a decade ago.

Even in the midst of the economic shutdown over Coronavirus, BARHA reports that most tenants paid their rent on time in both April and May.

“On average, members received 88 percent of normal rent collection in April,” said Meghan Pfanstiel, Government Affairs Coordinator for BARHA. “In May, 63 percent of respondents reported that May rent collections were better than April. As an association, we have provided tools for our landlords to work out payment plans and collect information about their tenants’ financial hardship related to COVID-19.  Our owner and property manager members (both big and small) are using these tools to work with tenants to come up with individualized, personal solutions.”

About 90 percent of all evictions are related to nonpayment of rent, Ulrich said, something legal representation won’t help with much.

“An attorney is going to buy them about five days, but if they don’t have the funds to pay, what good did it do,” Ulrich said. “We don’t disagree with the premise; we just disagree with what they are attempting is going to accomplish.”

Simply put, tenants would be guaranteed their legal expenses would be paid to fight an eviction through an added fee paid for by their landlord that likely have the same result in the end, Ulrich said. And the new fee is likely to cause rents to increase.

He also questioned where the money would go. He said there are currently 23,000 rental licenses in Boulder. The new fee would raise more than $1.7 million a year, much more than is necessary.

He said his group has tried to meet with NEWR to find a reasonable compromise, but efforts have gone unanswered.

NEWR also did not return a request for comment from Complete Colorado.

“We all have vested interest in lowering evections,” Ulrich said. “But there are a healthy level of evictions that do need to take place, and I don’t disagree with tenants having representation.”

Ulrich said it should be the people involved in the process paying.

“Let’s think it through,” he said. “Create reform that makes it effective so that it really solves the perceived problem. Tie it to the eviction process itself. Add it to the filing fee if you file for an eviction so that it’s scaled exactly to the number of evictions. Increase the cost on the owner, and maybe that will deter the filings.”

As it stands the added fee could be costly for landlords that rarely file for an eviction, Ulrich said, and the new fee will raise much more that is actually needed.

“I’m afraid it’s not going to do what they say it will do,” Ulrich said.

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