Mar 29, 2018

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Behind the Scenes: The inside story of Senate Bill 10

by | Mar 29, 2018

Getting a copy of a signed lease or a receipt is considered a common, professional courtesy in the best interest of the landlord and the tenant. However, right now, landlords are not obligated to provide such documents by law.

Unfortunately, records of transactions can get lost when tenants pay with cash or money order — as is the case with many low-income renters. This creates a situation ripe for misunderstandings from both sides. Many Colorado renters have been vulnerable to eviction or late charges because they were not able to prove that they had already paid rent – creating greater instability for those who are struggling to make ends meet. Fortunately, legislation developed and advocated for by CCLP, approved by Colorado legislators, and signed by Gov. John Hickenlooper, will do much to prevent such situations from happening in the future.

Signed into law on Thursday, March 22 after winning bipartisan support during the 2018 session, Senate Bill 10 will require landlords to provide to tenants a copy of their lease, plus a receipt when rent is paid by cash or money order. Receipts will be provided automatically if rent is paid in-person, and upon request if rent is mailed or deposited into a drop box. This ensures that tenants have the pertinent information about the expectations of their tenancy and can document their rent payments.

If you think that a bill that enacts such a reasonable and common practice in the tenant-landlord relationship would be an “easy lift,” you’d be wrong. In 2017, a similar measure, House Bill 1312 passed through the House but went down on party lines in a Senate committee near the end of the legislative session even though a compromise had been reached that neutralized opposition to the bill.

In public policy as in life, two or more times is the charm. But passing SB 10 took more than good luck. It required hard work, determination, strategy and diplomacy from CCLP staff — notably, our own Jack Regenbogen — and our partners.

According to Jack, the concept behind what eventually became SB 10 sprang from Floyd and April Jones who run Colorado Affordable Legal Services and Colorado Eviction Defense Center. The Joneses informed CCLP staff that a tenant’s lack of access to the signed lease or rental receipts often are at the root of evictions — whereas the ability to produce a rent receipt could help tenants remain in their homes.

During the 2017 session, HB 1312 was among a package of housing bills introduced in the legislature. We built a broad-based coalition, including 9to5 Colorado, Colorado Coalition for the Homeless, the Coalition Against Domestic Violence and the Colorado Cross-Disability Coalition. The Colorado Apartment Association, which represents landlords and  property management companies, originally opposed the bill.

In order to quell opposition, Jack approached the association with a compromise. After extensive negotiations, the association agreed to pull their opposition if HB 1312 included a provision that would grant receipts upon request, rather than automatically, if payment was not provided in person. Despite the compromise, the bill still failed after it was referred to the Senate Committee on State, Veterans & Military Affairs (commonly known as “the Kill Committee”) during the last two weeks of the session.

“We weren’t able to effectively lobby for the bill because there were rotating members on the committee at that point in the session,” Jack recalled.

Undeterred, Jack resumed communications with the Apartment Association, notifying them that a similar bill was in the works for 2018. Though the Apartment Association wouldn’t recommit to a neutral stance, Jack set out to find a sponsor to introduce the bill in the Senate, in hopes that it would gain bipartisan traction. Fortunately, Sen. Beth Martinez Humenik, R-Thornton, agreed to sponsor the bill.

“That was strategically very important,” Jack said, noting that in 2017, Sen. Kevin Priola, R-Henderson, sponsored our successful Notice to Quit Bill, which extended the notification period to terminate a tenant’s occupancy or raise rent from seven days to 21. When SB 10 was introduced, it was assigned to the Senate Committee on Local Government,  which Martinez Humenik chairs, meaning that she could provide an important “swing vote” if  her party colleagues were not on board with the legislation.

Though they had agreed to “go neutral” on SB 1312 the previous year, the Apartment Association asked to add a provision that tenants needed to request a lease or receipt in writing in order to receive the documents. They also wanted to give the landlords discretion as to whether they’d issue a paper or electronic copy of the documents.

“We didn’t want to make those changes,” Jack said. “We had already compromised a lot last year. We knew that we had to stand firm.”

The Renters Roundtable coalition also agreed not to acquiesce on all but one of the Apartment Association’s proposed amendments. “We believed that we had the support we needed, and didn’t feel comfortable watering down the bill,” Jack said.

After meeting with the Senate co-sponsors and the partners backing SB 10, they decided to move forward without the amendments. In response to this unified coalition of advocates, the Apartment Association eventually changed course and supported the bill — even testifying in favor of it. The bill passed out of the Senate Committee on Local Government and headed to the Senate floor, where it passed by a vote of 24-10. It easily cleared the House under the sponsorship of Rep. Tony Exum, D-Colorado Springs, and moved to the Governor’s desk.

The success of SB 10 didn’t come easily or occur in a vacuum. We must credit our amazing partners for their support and willingness to compromise (but also for remaining steadfast when necessary), and the bill’s sponsors, Sen. Martinez Humenik and Williams and Rep. Exum for guiding its path through the legislative process.

Once it goes into effect in August, the bill will make a difference in the lives of countless Coloradans who otherwise might be susceptible to hardship or even homelessness. While we feel good about our work on SB 10, we are also humbled in knowing that it is a small, but important step in forging pathways from poverty.

– By Bob Mook

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