Who knew? Rental deposits are strongly protected


Overall, Colorado doesn’t have a lot of tenant protections — it regularly ranks near the bottom when it comes to evictions, right to repairs and unjustified rent increases. My last two columns looked at how tenants can at least get some help with evictions, but the processes to get a tenant out of their home can still be pretty fast, relative to many states.

The one area tenants are protected is getting their deposit back. Which is ironic, because withholding deposits is the number one complaint tenants make to advocacy organizations. 

Because there were so many complaints of tenants unjustifiably losing their deposits, the Colorado Security Deposit Act (Colorado Revised Statutes 38-12-103) was passed in 1971. Renters could now sue their landlords in small claims court (without an attorney) for up to three times the amount of the deposit illegally withheld, along with attorney’s fees and court costs. This doesn’t mean you’ll automatically get that amount, but if the landlord acted in bad faith, you may have a decent shot. But so few renters know they have this right, and landlords certainly don’t tell them. 

By the way, any amount collected up front (other than nonrefundable fees) — whether it’s called a deposit, first or last month’s rent — is considered to be covered by this law.

Landlords have 30 days to return part or all your deposit, unless your lease says longer (60 days is the maximum). If they withhold any part of it, they must send/give you a written, itemized list within that time period — so make sure you give them a mailing address they can send it to. They have the right to withhold legitimate costs, including unpaid rent and/or utilities, damage you caused, unpaid late fees listed in lease, etc.

But the most common deductions are general cleaning, carpet cleaning and painting. Assuming you did a good job of cleaning your former home (which you absolutely should), these charges are considered “normal wear and tear.” That is defined by CRS 38-12-102 as “deterioration that occurs, based upon the use for which a rental unit or mobile home space, as defined in section 38-12-201.5 (7), is intended, without negligence, carelessness, accident, or abuse of the premises or equipment or chattels by the tenant or home owner or members of the tenant’s or home owner’s household, or their invitees or guests.” (Emphasis is mine.)

If you want to challenge any deductions, you need to send a letter allowing the landlord seven days to remedy the situation, before you file with the court. 

To protect yourself, one of the best things you can do is take photos and/or video of your new home before you move in any of your belongings. Especially focus on existing problems (i.e., holes in the wall, dirty carpets, stains anywhere, appliances that don’t work). A checklist and witnesses are good ideas too. This can be invaluable evidence should you need it later. Do the same after you move out and clean the unit. 

Thanks to a 1985 ballot initiative passed by voters, renters in the city of Boulder are also entitled to receive interest on their deposits, to be paid within the same period as stated above. While it has been very little during the era of microscopic interest rates, it’s now starting to increase. The city determines the new rate every year, and can be found on this pdf, downloadable at bit.ly/3FARK58, with instructions on how to calculate your interest. The rate for 2022 is pathetic: 0.06%, the lowest it’s ever been. But ongoing Federal Reserve Bank increases to tame inflation should increase that rate for 2023.

Of course, I am not an attorney, and none of this column is legal advice. 

See my Aug. 25 column (The Unrepentant Tenant, “Resources for Boulder renters”) for resources (including above mentioned forms) for getting help if you have problems, questions or need some advice. 

This opinion column does not necessarily reflect the views of Boulder Weekly.