RJ Sangosti, The Denver Post A 565-square-foot apartment near Cheesman Park on March 28, 2017, in Denver.
Denver landlords tried to evict nearly 8,000 households last year. Their success depended largely on one factor: whether their tenants hired an attorney.
And they almost never did.
In Denver County eviction court, landlords have an attorney about 90 percent of the time. Tenants, on the other hand, are represented by counsel about 1 percent of the time, according to new research by the Colorado Center on Law and Policy, which reviewed 93,000 eviction filings from 2001 through last year.
When a renter had a lawyer, they usually won their case and got to stay in their home. When they didn’t, they were evicted 68 percent of the time in private housing cases over the past three years and 43 percent of the time from public housing, according to “Facing Eviction Alone,” a report published Wednesday.
Calling eviction rates in the city “an economic and moral crisis,” center staff attorney and report author Jack Regenbogen said he hopes Denver will follow other cities that have invested in programs to provide legal assistance to residents facing eviction. New York recently became the first city to guarantee that tenants will have a lawyer.
“We knew it wasn’t a fair playing field, but we really weren’t sure just how unequal it was (until now),” he said, adding that it costs taxpayers more in the long term to take care of people who are homeless than it does to intervene before they lose their homes.
The majority of eviction filings in the last three years alleged overdue rent — and, in some cases, a small amount. The Denver Housing Authority, which operates 12,000 public-housing units, filed one eviction claiming $4 in unpaid rent. The median amount alleged in public-housing filings was about $250.
Such low amounts surprised researchers, considering that Colorado law requires the landlord to pay a $97 fee to file an eviction complaint and that the Denver Sheriff Department charges $120 to serve the notice.
The Colorado Coalition for the Homeless, which participated in the research, intends to use the findings to persuade city and state policymakers to look for ways to provide legal assistance to people facing eviction. “We know that evictions can often lead to homelessness, especially in areas where rental rates are increasing so significantly,” said Cathy Alderman, the coalition’s vice president of communications and public policy. “We were looking for ways to help keep people in their homes when the terms of eviction aren’t severe, like criminal activity.”
Renters in public housing who had legal representation kept their housing 80 percent of the time, according to eviction records from 2014-16. In private housing, those with attorneys kept their housing 94 percent of the time during the same three-year period.
Denver Housing Authority, which was party to 3 percent of evictions in the study, said the researchers’ recommendations could help reduce evictions throughout the city, and noted the private housing market would benefit from tenant protections similar to those in public housing, said executive director Ismael Guerrero. Renters in public housing can negotiate a payment agreement when they are behind on rent and can request a grievance hearing.
The federally funded authority is among Denver’s largest subsidized landlords with about 26,000 low- and middle-income residents.
In addition to the 8,000 evictions filed in Denver County last year, there were 37,000 throughout the rest of the state.
Since 2001 in Denver County, about 80 percent of 93,000 eviction filings resulted in the renter moving out, according to the study. Of the 8,000 eviction proceedings in Denver last year, more than 6,000 resulted in renters losing possession of their apartments.