Rent control rallies and 1980s tenant battles

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The summer heat is not only breaking records (thank you, climate crisis) but also manifesting itself in the world of rent control and activism. 

Two separate rallies have been announced to bring attention to outrageous rents. On June 30 at 6:30 p.m. on the west steps of the Colorado Capitol, two organizations, Together Colorado and 9to5 Colorado, are holding a rally to protest the recent veto threat by Gov. Polis on a rent stabilization measure for mobile home lot rents. HB 1287 passed with some good protections for mobile home residents, but only after the bills’ sponsors agreed to gut their own proposal by stripping out the most powerful protection, namely, to limit rent increases for mobile home lots. It’s a good opportunity for mobile home residents to voice their opposition to Polis’ veto threat, said Meghan Carrier, of Together Colorado, and push back against the despair on unending rent increases (see Unrepentant Tenant, “Rent relief in St. Paul and the Polis Betrayal,” May 5, 2022). 

The second summer rally will be on July 10 and will protest the state law banning rent control. Sponsored by the Colorado Housing for All Coalition (which includes Together Colorado and 9to5 Colorado), I’ll write more about that event in my next column.

Returning to the big picture of tenant protections from 1969-1985, three Boulder tenant groups were active—The Boulder Tenants Union, Boulder County Tenants Organization and the Renters Rights Project. As they organized and counseled thousands of renters during those years, they collected a mountain of information and saw a number of consistent issues come up, and raised them to the City Council and the media to get meaningful changes. (Simultaneously, Boulder’s Human Rights Office was receiving more than 200 tenant complaints per year on similar issues. Other organizations, such as Boulder Legal Services, CU Off Campus Housing and others, also fielded similar grievances.) 

Tenants didn’t always get those changes, but it did result in Boulder having the best renter protections of any Colorado city, although it still lags behind many states. Sadly, few tenants know about those protections, back then and now.

My last column left off with BTU working with the city’s Human Relations Committee (HRC) to get an ordinance requiring landlords to have a written copy of the lease (if over 30 days) and tenants getting a copy of that lease. That happened in 1983, in spite of lobbying by landlords from the Boulder Rental Property Association. 

The previous year, BTU had pushed for a raft of other tenant protections, including a Warranty of Habitability, just-cause eviction protection, creation of a Housing Commission, interest on deposits, and privacy protection. 

Housing Commission

Rather than deal directly with tenant issues, City Council referred most of those issues to the HRC during the early 1980s. While the HRC did hold hearings on most of the issues, they didn’t have the time nor expertise to deal with the proposals BTU was advocating for. During the summer of 1981, the HRC recommended the city establish a separate committee to deal with housing issues, especially rental issues. City Council ignored that advice, and several months later, BTU started another petition drive to create a Housing Commission.

“According to the petition,” the Colorado Daily reported in December, 1982, “the housing commission would be composed of nine city-appointed Boulder residents, including three tenants and one student. Five members would also have to be low- to moderate- incomes between $9,900 and $15,250 a year. Housing commission functions would include the study and preparation of a comprehensive housing policy for Boulder, plus provide a forum for landlord, tenant and homeowner issues. The Commission might also investigate the possibility of cooperative housing in Boulder and the impact that speculation has had on the price of city homes. (… )the commission could initiate a warranty of habitability or ‘better repair’ laws for rentals, banning ‘no cause’ evictions, and requiring landlords to pay tenants interest on security deposit.”

No Housing Commission was created, but several years ago Boulder created a Housing Advisory Board. The HAB has yet to address tenant issues.

Banning No Cause Evictions

Currently, Colorado laws allow landlords to evict tenants on month-to-month leases (with minimal notice), or not renew leases—for any or no reason.

BTU had received a number of tenant complaints about these no-cause or unjust evictions, and proposed working with the city to require just cause for those situations. No action was taken by either the HRC nor the city council on that issue.

Privacy protection

BTU also heard numerous complaints about landlords gaining entry into tenants’ homes with little or no notice—either when they were present or not. No law requires notice of any kind be given. Lease terms may address the issue, but is often about the landlord’s convenience, not tenant privacy. After much debate, in late 1983, on a 5-4 vote, the council passed an ordinance that required landlords to give reasonable notice. But they refused to define what a reasonable time period was, making it virtually toothless.

Interest on deposits and warranty of habitability were also high on BTU’s agenda, and will be discussed in a future column.  

This opinion column does not necessarily reflect the views of Boulder Weekly.

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