Requests for rental assistance still high in Routt County
Tenants can utilize updated renters’ rights
Requests to LiftUp of Routt County for rent help from local residents remain high this fall after a more than threefold increase in housing assistance requests last year.
“COVID-19 dramatically changed the needs of our clients,” LiftUp Executive Director Sue Fegelein said. “Requests for housing assistance are on the rise right now. Last year requests for assistance exploded in April, May and December.”
Before the COVID-19 pandemic, the nonprofit served 82 clients with housing assistance throughout 2019; however, that number increased to 265 in 2020 with assistance totaling $236,227.
Through the end of September this year, LiftUp served 109 clients with housing assistance, issuing more than $118,000 in funds. The nonprofit’s Housing Needs Fund provides financial assistance to Routt County residents on a short-term basis for those who cannot afford to make their rent or mortgage payment in an emergency situation, Fegelein explained. LiftUp pays landlords directly, and under current pandemic protocol, clients may receive assistance for up to three months within a 12-month period or $5,000, whichever is less.
Assistance to renters and mortgage holders also is available through Colorado Department of Local Affairs programs such as Emergency Rental Assistance Program where landlords or tenants can apply. The program requires paperwork from landlords and tenants and can take up to four to six weeks to see results, according to Patrick Noonan, manager for nonprofit Colorado Housing Connects.
The state housing relief online dashboard showed 79 Routt County residents have applied for $316,700 in state-managed pandemic-related rental assistance from July 2020 through last week.
Colorado Department of Local Affairs Division of Housing, cdola.colorado.gov/housing, rental assistance, phone or text 888-480-0066
Colorado Housing Connects, ColoradoHousingConnects.org, a free statewide service for housing questions, also offers a monthly legal eviction prevention workshop, 844-926-6632
Sarah Buss, director of the Office of Housing Recovery at the Department of Local Affairs, said despite the increased paperwork, state resources are currently plentiful, broad and can stretch to help tenants pay rent in arrears, up to three months of forward rent, and, in limited circumstances, help renters displaced from housing due to COVID-19 issues to pay security deposits for new housing. Buss said each household may be eligible to receive up to 18 months in rental assistance at up to 150% of fair market rate.
Buss said the state has pandemic-related rental assistance funding available at least through September 2022 and likely through September 2025. Buss advised tenants in need of rental assistance, even possibly in the future, not to wait but to apply now.
New rights for renters
Another significant advancement for tenants in Colorado is the new renters’ right approved by state lawmakers earlier this year that became effective Oct. 1. Among the new rights for tenants, landlords cannot raise rent more than one time per year, and a tenant without a written rental agreement must be given 60 days written notice before the rent can be raised.
Landlords cannot charge a late fee until payment is at least seven days late, and no late fee can be greater than $50 per month or 5% of monthly rent, whichever is more.
Tenants can assert a breach of warranty of habitability for issues, for example, of pest infestation, toxic mold or essential appliances not working.
If a landlord pursues a court process to evict tenants, renters can pay the landlord the full rent owed to stop the eviction up until the time a judge issues a judgment.
“By far the most helpful thing for struggling renters is more time to pay,” Noonan said. “We’ve seen there is a lot of money out there to help renters catch up on their rent; it just takes a lot of time to apply and see results.
“We still see a high demand of inquiries from people who are struggling to stay afloat,” said Noonan, whose organization provides assistance statewide.
Yampa Valley Housing Authority staff said they field phone calls regularly from renters in Steamboat who only have month-to-month verbal agreements between friends for housing arrangements.
“Many tenant and landlord relationships were just that, a friendship or relationship. Many were on a month-to-month basis for extended periods of time with no actual lease,” said Alyssa Cartmill, housing authority asset manager. “This allowed a landlord to give 30-day notice and force a tenant out. Many others were faced with landlords who didn’t want to renew a lease once it was up.”
A written lease is always recommended for all landlords and renters, Noonan said, but the state’s tenant rights apply to renters with only a handshake agreement as well.
Colorado Housing Connects received a surge of calls when the federal eviction protections ended in late August. Basically, under federal protections, if tenants could prove they were unable to pay rent due to COVID-19, a landlord could not evict. Noonan said the call volume to Colorado Housing Connects lowered when increased renter protections started Oct. 1 in Colorado.
The 14th Judicial District that includes Routt, Grand and Moffat counties experienced less court process evictions the past two years due to pandemic protections, Noonan said. So far in 2021, the district had 39 cases filed for evictions and 70 cases in 2020. That compares to 152 eviction cases in court in 2019 and 142 cases in 2018, Noonan said, noting court filed evictions are only a minor portion of overall evictions.
Fegelein said this month is shaping up to have larger numbers of rental assistance requests. She said January, February and May of this year also saw elevated requests.
LiftUp also entered into an agreement with Yampa Valley Housing Authority to distribute $25,000 from a Colorado Housing and Finance Authority grant awarded to to the housing authority in December. Those funds have assisted some 21 households of families living in the four housing authority complexes, with 11% of those funds currently remaining, Fegelein said.
To reach Suzie Romig, call 970-871-4205 or email sromig@SteamboatPilot.com.
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