FIRC gives crash course on tenant rights and responsibilities
The first mistake a tenant makes: not reading the lease. With few exceptions, tenants are bound by these documents under Colorado law. And sometimes, they find a few surprises in the fine print.
“In Colorado, the lease a renter has with a landlord is truly the most important document you can get,” Department of Local Affairs Housing Division director Denise Stepto said. “They need to look at it and make absolutely certain they know what it says in there.”
Under the current state of affairs, landlords have the leg-up according to state law. This, combined with low inventory statewide and high demand for long-term rentals can strain tenants in a scramble for housing.
“It’s certainly put landlords in the driver’s seat,” Family and Intercultural Resource Center director of programs Peter Bakken said. “It’s a competitive market, as you know.”
This spring, the FIRC is offering a “Ready to Rent” course open to the public, which would not only educate tenants of their rights, but would also serve as a reference to the renter’s credibility. The 12-hour curriculum will be split into four classes at three hours each, running every Wednesday evening from April 27 to May 18.
“It’s designed to help people with successful renters,” Bakken said. “We’ve got a lot of young people renting or moving for the first time.”
The FIRC will bring in the curriculum for what they hope will be the first of multiple courses throughout the year. Participants will receive a certificate of completion to present to prospective landlords. The program will also serve as preparation for a collaborative project between the FIRC and the Summit County Housing Authority to match potential renters with local landlords for long-term rentals.
“On the landlord side, the program would guarantee their rent,” Bakken said. “We might get landlords to pull some of their short-term leases out of the rental market.”
Summit Combined Housing Authority executive director Jennifer Kermode said the programs were part of a three-pronged approach to educate tenants and bring properties into a master lease program, while ensuring rent is paid and properties are not damaged through the process.
“If we could get (landlords) into the program, it takes the burden off them of making sure they’re renting to someone who’s a responsible tenant,” Kermode said. “By the same token, for landlords who want to put their property in the program, we want to screen the property and make sure it’s suitable.”
The program is still in the developmental stages, pending potential funding.
WORDS OF WISDOM
In the current rental market, many potential tenants will jump to sign a lease before even viewing the property.
“We get a number of calls from kids who signed a lease agreement, saw the property and the stove doesn’t work, or there’s no heat,” Kermode said.
Under Colorado law, tenants do have protections under more recent habitability statutes, which require landlords to repair roof leaks, cracked windows, broken heaters or water; otherwise, a tenant may break their lease early at no cost.
“I think Colorado law generally favors the landlord,” Kermode added. “That doesn’t mean tenants don’t have rights, but they are asking to live in somebody else’s property.”
Another area of law where tenants have some leverage is with security deposit refunds. If a landlord does not intend to refund the security deposit, they must send out a notice within 30 to 60 days. Otherwise, a tenant may request three times the deposit in court if the landlord does not respond to a seven-day notice.
For landlords, Kermode suggested conducting background checks and requesting credit reports or verification of employment. Another issue to consider is the mix of tenants in one property.
“Think about how many unrelated individuals you want to rent to, because that’s also an issue,” Kermode said. “If a landlord’s gonna charge $2,000 a month for a two-bedroom unit, he should expect two to three individuals are going to rent it.”
Ultimately, for both landlords and tenants, the key is to not overlook important details in the rush to find or fill a property.
“If you’ve got a mortgage on your property, the tendency is to get it leased up as fast as you can,” Kermode said. “You should have prudent measurements in place.”
SELLING OUT AND MOVING OUT
Between the FIRC’s courses and the cooperative Master Lease Program, the hope is to retain more properties as long-term rentals rather than being converted to short-term rentals or sold outright.
“There are a number of people who have been here this past winter and say they no longer have a place to live,” Kermode said. “We hear people saying, ‘do you have any place to rent? My landlord is terminating my lease early.’”
While the standard amount of time to notify a tenant of such a situation is usually 30 days, it all comes down to what is listed in the lease. If a landlord wants to raise the rent, or evict a tenant at the end of their lease for no reason, they must give yearlong tenants a three-month notice, for tenants of six months to a year a minimum of one month, one to six-month tenants at least 10 days, and tenants of a week to a month at least three days’ notice.
In the case of overstaying that time, rent that is past due or other violations of the lease, landlords must give tenants a three-day notice before they can be evicted.
In the face of an incredible lack of inventory, Bakken added many residents, even families, are crowding into spaces that are too small.
“We see a lot of overcrowding in apartments, situations that aren’t great for families,” he said. “They come to the forefront now because that space is so tight.”
The shortage of rooms is particularly tight in Summit County, but is also an issue statewide. Stepto added the problem is especially hard on families, seniors and disabled individuals.
“Because there’s a lack of affordable housing, people are not having their leases renewed,” Stepto said. “There’s really nothing a renter can do about that. …It’s putting a squeeze on a good chunk of the population.”
Start a dialogue, stay on topic and be civil.
If you don't follow the rules, your comment may be deleted.