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“For-cause” eviction protections for renters overcome moderate Democrats’ challenge in Colorado Senate

Update, March 26: The for-cause evictions bill passed the Senate on Tuesday.

Democrats in the Colorado Senate fought off a challenge from within their own party Monday and advanced a bill that would increase displacement protections for tenants — clearing that hurdle nearly a year after the legislative death of a similar proposal.

The bill generally would give renters of apartments and other housing a right of first refusal to renew an expiring lease. Landlords would need to have a good reason for not allowing them to renew, such as failure to pay rent or plans for substantial renovations.

House Bill 1098 won approval from the House last month and passed its first hurdle before the full Senate on Monday afternoon, clearing a voice vote after more than six hours of debate — the longest so far of this year’s session in that chamber. The bill drew strong pushback from Republicans and some Democrats over concerns it would swing the balance too far toward tenants.

The measure faces a final vote in the Senate as early as Tuesday. It then would need agreement from its legislative backers in both chambers for changes made in the Senate before heading to Gov. Jared Polis’ desk.

Dubbed “for-cause” eviction, the rules proposed by the bill would help address two problems, supporters say: First, they would curb displacements of tenants who, if their landlords don’t renew their leases, face pricey relocation costs. And, they argue, the policy would protect renters from bad-actor property owners who may want to rid themselves of tenants for discriminatory or retaliatory purposes.

Sen. Nick Hinrichsen, a Pueblo Democrat sponsoring the bill, said the state’s law requiring living spaces to meet safety and health standards was “too often” flouted near the the end of a tenant’s lease, particularly if the tenant had a low income.

He cited “cases where a tenant who asserts their rights to safe, stable housing, with an air of peacefulness, is moved … when the lease is up, and they have nowhere else to go.”

Sen. Julie Gonzales, a Denver Democrat who’s also a sponsor, told lawmakers at a committee meeting earlier this month that the bill provided clarity for landlords and protections for tenants.

But opponents have criticized the bill as going too far in empowering tenants to occupy landlords’ property without the owners’ agreement, and they’ve argued that the policy would make it harder to remove difficult tenants.

“This bill is offensive to property rights,” Senate Minority Leader Paul Lundeen, a Monument Republican, said late Monday afternoon. “And therefore I believe it is offensive to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.”

A similar but broader bill died on the calendar in the Senate last year on the penultimate day of the legislative session. This year, the bill’s Democratic backers narrowed the proposed policy by no longer requiring landlords to pay relocation costs for displaced tenants and by removing language that would require landlords to offer substantially similar lease terms.

Further changes made in the Senate state that the law would apply only to tenants who have lived in a unit for a year or longer. That change earned a neutral position on the bill from the Colorado Apartment Association, a powerful player on housing policy in the Capitol.

Last year’s version of the bill had sputtered in the face of moderate Democrats’ opposition in the Senate. Similar headwinds greeted the measure this year, too, as a small group of moderate Democrats, together with the chamber’s Republicans, unsuccessfully sought to rewrite the bill Monday.

Sen. Kyle Mullica, a Thornton Democrat, brought an amendment that essentially sought to hijack the measure. His change would have expanded discrimination protections for tenants while removing the key provision giving them the ability to renew their leases without landlords’ approval.

As drafted, the amendment would have required landlords to give tenants four months’ notice that the landlords wouldn’t renew a lease.

“I do have concerns … that we are creating a situation where one party on a contract is going to be forced to stay in that contract in perpetuity,” Mullica told fellow senators. “That is concerning to me. And so I’m trying to address that. I’m trying to find that middle ground here.”

In response, Gonzales said Mullica’s middle ground version “would strike the entire bill that we got to neutral with the apartment association, that we got to neutral with the Realtors, that we got to neutral with the governor” on.

Mullica’s amendment narrowly failed after most Senate Democrats voted against it. He and three other moderate Democrats joined with the chamber’s Republicans in support.

Should the Senate approve the bill in its final vote, the House and Senate would have to reconcile the differing versions they passed. Changes include details around the exemptions allowing a landlord not to renew a tenant’s lease and provisions for when a landlord can subsequently rent out a property.

Gonzales told senators Monday that the governor, a fellow Democrat, had “agreed” to the bill.

In a statement to The Denver Post last week, Polis spokeswoman Shelby Wieman said the governor “appreciates the good discussions between the sponsors and our office” and looks “forward to continued conversations with members of the legislature as the bill moves through the process.”

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