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Christopher Sheppard carries his families bags from a Motel 6 to WoodSprings Suites just up the road on Thursday, Feb. 2, 2023. After being evicted from their apartment last summer, the Sheppard’s sold everything they owned, including their car, with the exception of a few suitcases, a half-dozen bags and backpacks, a TV and their sons Xbox. (Parker Seibold, The Gazette)

An effort to prohibit landlords from evicting residential tenants without "just cause" met an unceremonious end in the last days of Colorado's 2023 legislative session. 

House Bill 1171 would have only allowed evictions or lease terminations if the tenant does something wrong, such as failing to pay rent or violating lease agreements. It would have also required landlords to give 90 days' notice and pay tenants two to three months' worth of rent to evict or terminate leases in no-fault circumstances, like for landlords to renovate the property or to move in themselves. 

Critics countered the bill is too harsh on landlords and would push them out of the rental market. They also said treating the decision not to renew a lease as an eviction forces landlords into endless leases, and the 90-day notice for terminating leases makes single-month leases functionally impossible to enforce.

The bill passed the House in mid-March. But in the Senate, it didn't get its first committee hearing until May 4 — four days before the end of the session. Though the bill passed committee, it died on the calendar Sunday when senators failed to hold the second reading vote before the midnight deadline. 

"We should be ashamed that (the bill) was not prioritized in light of the historic majorities held by Democrats in Colorado," said bill sponsor Rep. Javier Mabrey, D-Denver, in a statement posted on Twitter. "We had the opportunity to make real change and protect our most vulnerable citizens, but we fell short." 

Bill sponsor Sen. Julie Gonzales, D-Denver, said she was working on getting more senators on board to vote "yes" on the bill. Gonzales said they would have gotten the bill passed if they had more time. 

In the Senate committee meeting last week, Gonzales committed to amending the bill to remove two of the most controversial requirements: that landlords pay tenants relocation assistance in no-fault evictions, and that lease renewal agreements be substantially similar to the prior lease, which critics said would prevent landlords from raising rents. 

"We had the path but ran out of time," Gonzales told Colorado Politics. 

House representatives voted 38-26 to pass the bill, also sponsored by Democrats Rep. Serena Gonzales-Gutierrez of Denver and Sen. Nick Hinrichsen of Pueblo.

Only Democrats supported the bill, while all Republicans and seven Democrats voted against it: Reps. Shannon Bird, Bob Marshall, Karen McCormick, Barbara McLachlan, Marc Snyder, Mary Young and House Speaker Julie McCluskie. 

Sponsors passed extensive amendments to the original bill to help appease opponents, including reducing the required notice period from 120 days to 90 days; exempting mobile homes, short-term rentals and landlords who rent out part of their primary residence; and, exempting small landlords from paying the relocation assistance.  

Those change didn't win over the opposition.

“House Bill 1171 is one of many pieces of legislation introduced this year that disregards private property rights and further drives up the regulatory cost of housing in Colorado," said Michael Fields, president of Advance Colorado Institute, in a statement. 

Lawmakers passed several bills this session cracking down on the actions of landlords, including requiring mediation before eviction for tenants on government aidcapping fees for owning pets and limiting tenant income requirements and security deposits. Those bills are all awaiting approval from the governor. 

During a committee hearing on the bill, Gary Jones, a 70-year-old landlord of two multi-unit-converted houses in Greeley, said he’s previously chosen not to renew leases for reasons that would not qualify under the bill, saying some tenants have been “obnoxious” and “unsavory” without breaking the lease or without proof of their behavior. 

“It puts the burden on people like me,” Jones said. “It feels like you’re trying to punish me for being an honest landlord and keep me from making a living.”

Proponents of the bill argued that it is intended to prevent landlords from discriminating or retaliating against tenants by evicting them or terminating their leases. 

Mabrey, a housing attorney who was evicted himself as a teenager, and other attorneys said landlords have refused to renew their clients’ leases after calling them racial slurs or propositioning them for sex. Mabrey said these actions don’t matter to the court, as state law currently allows landlords to not renew leases for any reason, or for no reason at all.

Dozens of local renters testified in support of the bill, saying they’ve experienced unfair evictions.

Rita Carrasco said her landlord kicked her out after her family was victim to a drive-by shooting at their home, leaving Carrasco and her 2-year-old child to live in a car for a month. Erika Reyes said her landlord tried to evict her by falsely claiming she missed a rent payment after Reyes repeatedly asked them to address the apartment's cockroaches, mold and water damage. 

“We are extremely vulnerable,” Reyes said when the bill was introduced. “HB 1171 will protect tenants like me from landlord retaliation for advocating for repairs and our legal rights. Help us hold our corporate landlords accountable.” 

Other states including New Jersey, California, New Hampshire, Washington and Oregon have their own versions of "just cause" eviction laws, and the White House’s blueprint for a renters’ bill of rights includes requiring "justified cause" for evictions and notice if a lease will not be renewed.

HB 1171 was a cornerstone housing policy for progressives this year, with House Democrats including Reps. Stephanie Vigil and Jennifer Parenti publicly denouncing the bill's failure, in addition to groups such as the Colorado Homes for All Coalition and the Community Economic Defense Project, where Mabrey works as a staff attorney.

Bill sponsors said they will continue to try to bring "just cause" eviction laws to Colorado, promising to bring the bill back in future legislative sessions. 

"We will not give up on this fight," Mabrey said, "and we will continue to work towards a future where everyone has access to safe, stable, and affordable housing. We will be back and we will win." 

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