Driving through new residential neighborhood in suburbia

A view from a Denver residential neighborhood.

A bill seeking to qualify low-income Coloradans for much more rental housing passed its final legislative vote on Saturday and now only needs the governor's approval to become law. 

Most landlords require tenants to earn at least three times the amount they charge for rent. In 2022, the average monthly cost of a one-bedroom apartment in Colorado stood at $1,364. That means tenants must make at least $49,104 to qualify. The individual median income for Coloradans is just under $37,000, according to the most recent Census data from 2020. 

If signed into law, Senate Bill 184 would cap minimum income requirements for tenants to twice the cost of rent. It would also cap security deposits to the cost of two months' rent, among other changes. 

"Housing is everything," said bill sponsor Rep. Meg Froelich, D-Englewood. "People are desperate for housing and this bill addresses the huge barriers to getting into that, to getting that chance to achieve housing when you don't have the resources that a lot of us have." 

The House approved the bill in a 43-22 vote on Saturday, following the Senate's 22-12 passage on April 17. All Republicans voted against the bill and all but four Democrats voted in support of it. 

Critics called the bill's restrictions "excessive" and "punitive" for landlords. They said the bill will contribute to dis-incentivizing landlords from renting. 

The state legislature is currently considering several bills that sponsors say will lower housing costs for renters by cracking down on the actions of landlords. Some of those bills seek to prohibit evictions without just cause and cap housing fees for owning pets

"We need housing so desperately and we keep attacking the people who are providing it," said Rep. Scott Bottoms, R-Colorado Springs. "You can't drive out landlords who rent and still have rentals."   

Other opponents said the bill would open the door for renters to over-spend on housing, as well as make the agreement more risky for landlords. 

"Housing is not the only cost that has gone up dramatically," said Rep. Rick Taggart, R-Grand Junction. "We are putting all of those individuals in terrible jeopardy if they can spend 50% (of their income on rent). ... We're asking people to get themselves into real financial trouble and, on top of that, we're putting that risk on the landlord." 

The general rule of thumb for budgeting rent is to spend a maximum of 30% of one's monthly income on housing, with those who spend more than 30% being classified as cost-burdened.

But with the cost of housing in Colorado rising faster than incomes, fewer and fewer residents are able to adhere to this standard. In 2022, a study found that half of Colorado renters spent more than 30% of their income on housing — a rate above the national average and the eighth-highest of all states. 

Proponents of the bill said it would also close a loophole landlords use to discriminate against people who use housing vouchers. While landlords can't deny tenants for using housing vouchers, they can still require the tenant to earn a certain amount. Proponents said this is particularly difficult for those who live on fixed incomes, such as older adults, veterans and people with disabilities. 

The bill clarifies that tenants can raise discrimination as a defense in eviction proceedings, and it prohibits landlords from considering credit scores when evaluating potential tenants who use housing vouchers. 

"We are sent to this building to serve the people of Colorado. About 40% of these people are renters," said bill sponsor Rep. Lorena Garcia, D-Adams County. "Expecting hardworking residents to have to earn more than two times the monthly rent is simply wrong." 

During floor debates, Democrats rejected six proposed amendments to the bill from Republicans. Some of those amendments sought to increase the income requirement to 2.5 times rents and to three times rent. 

Sponsors made significant edits to the bill in committee to help appease opponents, including raising the income cap to two times rent, instead of the original 1.25 times rent, and raising the deposit cap to two months' rent instead of the original one month's rent. 

Sponsors also fully removed several provisions of the original bill that would have, in part, required landlords to accept the first eligible tenant who applies; allowed tenants to pay deposits in monthly installments; and, prohibited landlords from considering a tenant's financial status if they have paid their rent on time for the last three months or if they have a financially qualified co-signer. 

The bill will be sent to Gov. Jared Polis in the coming days. If signed, it will go into effect in August. 

(0) comments

Welcome to the discussion.

Keep it Clean. Please avoid obscene, vulgar, lewd, racist or sexually-oriented language.
Don't Threaten. Threats of harming another person will not be tolerated.
Be Truthful. Don't knowingly lie about anyone or anything.
Be Nice. No racism, sexism or any sort of -ism that is degrading to another person.
Be Proactive. Use the 'Report' link on each comment to let us know of abusive posts.
Share with Us. We'd love to hear eyewitness accounts, the history behind an article.