What’s a “reasonable” rent increase? Colorado lawmakers often leave vague — but important — language for courts to interpret.

Sometimes the ambiguity is intentional. Other times, legal issues arise because lawmakers can’t always predict how their policies will be tested in the real world.

Elliott Wenzler
The Colorado Sun
The morning sun shines on the State Capitol shines in downtown Denver on May 28, 2021.
David Zalubowski/AP

Imagine driving down a Colorado highway and instead of seeing a posted speed limit, you pass a road sign that reads: “Go an appropriate speed.”

The idea may seem ludicrous, but similarly vague language is often inserted into bills by Colorado’s state lawmakers. Undefined terms like “reasonable” and “substantial” are included in key parts of legislation and then left to courts to sort out later. 

Sometimes, the ambiguity arises as laws are tested because it’s impossible for the legislature to imagine every possible scenario in which a statute may apply. Other times, loosey-goosey terms are intentionally added by lawmakers trying to build enough political support to pass a controversial bill. 

But while some see vagueness as a tool to keep bills moving forward, others see it as a possible burden for the court system.

What’s a “reasonable increase” in rent? What’s a “substantially economically identical” offer on a multifamily residential building that’s for sale? Coloradans won’t know for sure unless those bills get signed into law and are challenged in the court system.

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