‘Tis the season for Boulder’s population to significantly increase, mostly with student renters. Given that migration, dance with me as I pivot from rent control back to general tenant issues.
Forty years ago, as the director of the Boulder Tenants Union (BTU), a major part of my job was counseling hundreds of tenants (and landlords). Based on my experience—and conversations with others working with tenant issues—I found that the overwhelming majority of Boulder tenants don’t know their rights. There’s little evidence that has changed in 2022.
Those rights are found in both state statutes and city ordinances. As my previous columns have mentioned, the city of Boulder has the strongest laws in the state, thanks to past tenant activism, but that doesn’t help renters if they don’t know about those laws and resources.
Boulder city councils of the 1980s didn’t see much reason for passing better tenant laws, in spite of Colorado being near the bottom ranking of states for tenant protection. When confronted with documentation of widespread problems, they (and landlords) consistently said more laws weren’t needed, and tenants and landlords just needed to work out their own problems. Since there is a severe imbalance of power between the two parties, and most renters can’t afford lawyers, that advice was a slap in the face and underscored how the majority of Council members are not renters (then and now).
At that time, BTU proposed specific ordinances on a variety of issues to balance that power inequity—but Council refused, and instead offered to establish a mediation forum for tenants and landlords. The city reluctantly established the Landlord Tenant Mediation Project in the mid-1980s. Mediation is helpful but was no substitute for better tenant protection then, and still is not.
Nonetheless, for almost 40 years, the city offers a valuable resource that almost no other Colorado city has, and should be more widely known to anyone renting.
This city service later expanded its purview, and is now called the Community Mediation and Resolution Center (CMRC). It deals with issues beyond mediation and landlord/tenant issues, but more than 90% of calls are landlord/tenant related.
CRMS Manager Carin Armstrong recently said they receive an average of 20 calls per week asking for help on landlord/tenant issues, which peaks between March and October.
Mediation offers a way for both parties to resolve problems and avoid going to court. Boulder is not the only city to offer mediation, but it was the first. It is a free service offered by Boulder and Longmont through volunteer mediators trained in conflict resolution. The main caveat is that both parties must be willing to mediate—no one can compel people to compromise.
Because the city received so many landlord/tenant calls for help, CMRC also developed and published a Landlord-Tenant Handbook: A Guide to Residential Landlords and Tenants’ Rights and Responsibilities. It encapsulates both state and city regulations on renting. This objective 40-page booklet can be picked up at the Housing and Human Services offices (or Boulder Main Library), or downloaded on the city’s website (bit.ly/3QEhbW1). This is especially relevant to all the new renters flooding into Boulder right now, many of whom are coming from other states or other Colorado cities.
Some renters new to Boulder (especially those from states that have rent control) have a difficult time understanding why landlords can raise rents with little or no justification (The Unrepentant Tenant, “The fantasy of inflation increasing rents” July 28, 2022). Out-of-state tenants are also astonished to see how quickly Colorado evictions can take place, since most states allow a more humane period of time to process an eviction.
The Landlord-Tenant Handbook covers subjects including leases, evictions, repairs, deposits and rights to privacy—it’s a good place to start for both tenants and landlords to see how to deal with problems. It also offers a list of resources on renting, housing and related topics. Additionally, there’s a good FAQ along with helpful forms on the CMRS website, and staff can answer questions—although they can’t give legal advice. You’ll likely need to leave a message or fill out an online form first.
Additionally, CU’s Off-Campus Housing is another good resource for tenants attending the university. They offer legal advice to students, along with a number of forms that might be helpful to tenants.
So, given that perhaps 90% or more of renters don’t know their rights—and responsibilities—shouldn’t we be doing more to give them the resources they need? Perhaps requiring that all tenants be given a copy of the Landlord-Tenant Handbook when they sign the lease? That would be a good start that could decrease a lot of problems down the line.
This opinion column does not necessarily reflect the views of Boulder Weekly.