Colorado’s last pandemic renter protections end, but new law may help fill gaps

Gov. Polis orders changes that could make it easier to fire state employees who don’t get vaccine

By: - October 5, 2021 5:00 am
apartments

A man walks by an apartment building in Denver’s Capitol Hill neighborhood on December 11, 2020. (Moe Clark/Colorado Newsline)

With a Sunday executive order, Colorado Gov. Jared Polis ended the last remaining pandemic-era state protections for renters, which had been in place since August.

The protections had required landlords to give some tenants extra time to catch up on payments before filing an eviction. Under a previous executive order from Polis, a tenant who had applied for emergency rental assistance had to be given a 30-day “demand period” to pay back owed rent, instead of the usual 10-day demand period required by state law — if the tenant had applied for assistance before Aug. 1, and their application was still pending.

As of Sunday, landlords are only required to give 10 days’ notice before filing an eviction, regardless of whether the tenant has applied for rental assistance.

A new state law provides some relief for renters, though.

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Until Senate Bill 21-173 was passed this year, landlords were not required to accept owed rent after an eviction had been filed with the courts. The new law — sponsored by Sens. Julie Gonzales, D-Denver, and Dominick Moreno, D-Commerce City, along with Reps. Yadira Caraveo, D-Thornton, and Serena Gonzales-Gutierrez, D-Denver — allows tenants to pay back their rent any time before a court has ordered a writ of restitution, which is the document that allows a sheriff to remove someone from the premises. Polis signed SB-173 into law in June.

It normally takes about a month between the eviction filing and the writ of restitution, but that can timeline vary a lot depending on a number of other factors, said Zach Neumann, executive director of the COVID-19 Eviction Defense Project.

So, thanks to SB-173, Colorado tenants could have weeks of extra time to pay back owed rent after their landlord files the initial eviction paperwork. This might appear to make up for the loss of the renter protections Polis ended on Sunday, but Neumann isn’t so sure.

“It’s hard to say, but it feels like you’re trading that extended demand period for a somewhat similar amount of time to make payment through the court process,” he said. “The difference, though, is time on the front end is perhaps a little bit more valuable.”

To pay back owed rent now and avoid a default judgment that could end in eviction, renters must file an answer to the eviction filing and show up for a court hearing, Neumann explained. “I think for a lot of clients that process can be very confusing,” said Neumann, whose organization helps people facing eviction with legal advice and representation.

In the meantime, thousands of applications for emergency assistance are still pending with the state, though the backlog has cleared somewhat.

As of Sept. 22, the Department of Local Affairs had approved 42,995 applications for emergency housing assistance, totaling $168 million, according to an online dashboard. Another 2,050 applications were under review, and 5,213 applications were missing information. On top of those, 1,697 applications for assistance were still outstanding.

Steven Cordova is the executive director of Total Concept, a nonprofit that is helping the state distribute emergency rental and housing assistance in southeast Colorado. He called the end of the extended demand period a “natural evolution.”

“We need to continue to move on and move forward,” Cordova said. “There are still resources out there. Families and people need to access those resources that still exist.”

Student data shared

Besides ending the 30-day demand period for renters, Polis’ Sunday executive order speeds up the pre-disciplinary process for state workers who refuse to get the COVID-19 vaccine, meaning they could get fired more quickly for being out of compliance. State employees are required to be fully vaccinated against COVID-19 or undergo testing.

The order also directs the Colorado Department of Education to share certain student data with the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment.

The data sharing part of the order requests that CDE and CDPHE work together to make sure they have enough student data to track vaccination status and monitor disease in K-12 schools, according to a spokesperson for CDPHE. This will likely involve using data on student demographics and school enrollment, the spokesperson said in an email.

“In order to ensure a unique match and maintain security, we typically need several data elements — such as name, (date of birth), address, parent name, phone number, etc.,” the spokesperson said. “This is especially important because sometimes a student may have the same name or birthdate as other students, for example.”

“This data sharing is necessary in connection with the COVID-19 pandemic to protect the health and safety of our student population,” the executive order states, adding that federal law “permits such data sharing with appropriate persons in connection with an emergency if the information is necessary to protect the health or safety of the student or other persons.”

Polis’ executive order also ended a temporary suspension of the state requirement for people younger than 21 to renew their Colorado driver’s licenses in person. Coloradans under 21 must again visit a Division of Motor Vehicles location in person for license renewals.

While Sunday’s order theoretically ended a similar rule suspension for people 66 and older — who could not renew their driver’s licenses online before the pandemic — a 2021 state law removed the upper age limit for online license renewals. However, Coloradans older than 80 who renew their license electronically must upload to myDMV.colorado.gov a signed statement from an optometrist or ophthalmologist, attesting that they’ve had an eye examination in the last six months.

“Thanks to the efforts of all Coloradans, the moment for extraordinary executive action has passed,” Polis wrote in the order. “The State has made tremendous progress in terms of containing and treating infection and distributing the COVID-19 vaccine.”

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Faith Miller
Faith Miller

Reporter Faith Miller covers the Colorado Legislature, immigration and other stories for Colorado Newsline.

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