Mountain Law: Landlords, tenants and domestic abuse
Special to the Daily
What are the rights of landlords and tenants when a tenant is the victim of domestic violence or abuse?
At the federal level, the primary law on this subject is the Violence Against Women Act of 1994 (VAWA). The act allows landlords to evict a perpetrator of domestic violence while permitting the victim to remain, and it allows participants in the Section 8 voucher program to move and use their vouchers in a different jurisdiction at any time during the lease. A limitation of the act is that it only applies to tenants living in public or subsidized housing.
Colorado has adopted specific laws that apply to private properties (as opposed to public or subsidized housing). These laws address four important aspects of landlord/tenant relationships in the context of domestic violence or abuse: (1) protection of domestic victims from evictions; (2) termination of leases by domestic violence victims; (3) non-waiver provisions in leases; and (4) protections with respect to warranty of habitability matters.
PROTECTION FROM EVICTION
A landlord may not evict a tenant who is a victim of domestic violence or abuse if the violence or abuse was the cause of the eviction to begin with. A tenant seeking to claim this protection must document the violence or abuse by providing a police report or civil protection order. Nothing in the law prevents a landlord from evicting a tenant on the basis of nonpayment of rent or if the tenant holds over after termination of the lease. The law only protects a tenant from an eviction based on a violation of a covenant in the lease or a “substantial violation” (serious crime or disturbance). Like VAWA, the Colorado law allows the landlord to evict the perpetrator of the violence or abuse while allowing the victim to remain.
ABILITY TO TERMINATE LEASE
A tenant may terminate the lease if he or she “seeks to vacate the premises due to fear of imminent danger for self or children because of domestic violence or domestic abuse.” The tenant must provide a police report written within the prior 60 days or a valid protection order documenting the domestic violence or abuse. The tenant is liable for no more than one months’ rent (in addition to any physical damage to the property), which is due and payable to the landlord within 90 days after the tenant vacates the premises. The landlord is not required to refund the security deposit until the one month’s rent is paid.
The domestic violence protections discussed above may not be waived in the lease. Further, a lease may not include a provision permitting the landlord to terminate the lease or impose any other penalty by reason of the tenant’s calls made to the police or other emergency assistance because of domestic violence, nor waive the right of the tenant to call for police or emergency assistance.
WARRANTY OF HABITABILITY
A landlord can sometimes be liable for poor condition (habitability) of the property, but not if the condition is caused by misconduct of the tenant. However, it is not considered tenant misconduct if an uninhabitable condition is the result of domestic violence or abuse documented by the tenant with a police report or civil protection order.
In sum, victims of domestic violence or abuse have significant rights under VAWA in the pubic or subsidized housing context, and under state law in the private property context. There are important documentation requirements and other limitations that affect landlord/tenant rights.
Noah Klug is owner of The Klug Law Firm LLC, in Summit County. He may be reached at (970) 468-4953 or Noah@TheKlugLawFirm.com.
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