Q: WHAT WILL A YES VOTE ACCOMPLISH?
A: This ballot initiative will guarantee all tenants in the city of Denver the right to free legal representation in eviction hearings. This representation is full-scope, meaning it begins at the moment a tenant receives an eviction notice, and lasts until a case is dismissed or judgment is issued. It will also create a tenant’s legal services and assistance coordinator to administer the program and establish a tenants’ committee to ensure the program is carried out properly.
Q: WHY NOW?
A: Denver is facing an eviction crisis. Between 2010-2019, Denver courts saw an average of 9000 eviction filings every year. While eviction bans during the pandemic slowed eviction rates in 2020, Colorado renters are facing historic levels of rental debt. When protections expire, we will see an eviction wave.
Evictions are also a racial justice issue. Whole communities are being displaced — a recent report found that Denver is the second-fastest gentrifying city in the nation. Evictions are the most violent form of this displacement — this racial disparity is seen in Denver courts, where black renters make up one-third of those facing eviction, despite being only 10% of Denver’s population.
Q: WHO IS LEADING THIS INITIATIVE?
A: Renters. This initiative is driven by a diverse coalition of renters in the city of Denver. We are motivated by the belief that stable, affordable housing is a human right. At the same time, we know that any among us could be suddenly faced with a loss of job, change of relationship, family death, or medical emergency that would leave us unable to make the month’s rent. Our campaign is all volunteer, and our only funding is by donation from community members and our nationwide supporters online.
Q: WHY DO YOU NEED REPRESENTATION IN AN EVICTION?
A: You need an attorney to ensure that you have a fair trial if you ever find yourself in eviction court. Eviction proceedings take place in civil court, where tenants do not have the right to an attorney. This leads to a huge imbalance in legal representation between landlords and tenants. In Denver County, less than 1% of tenants come to court with legal counsel, while 88% of landlords do. A 2020 report found that a right to counsel program like NEWR in Baltimore could cut evictions by 92 percent. The vast majority of tenants don’t even come to court, which leads to a default judgment in favor of the landlord, an automatic eviction. Even those that do come to court without legal representation are often confused by the process and enter into a default judgement.
With the help of an attorney, evictions can be resolved in other ways. The right to legal counsel will get more tenants into the courtroom, increase their chances of staying in their housing, facilitate language translation if needed (eviction documentation and proceedings are only in English), and most of all help renters and landlords reach alternative resolutions that are far less harmful than an eviction. An attorney in housing court is a lifeline that can save our most vulnerable neighbors from the extreme hardship that comes with being evicted.
Q: HOW DOES AN EVICTION IMPACT YOUR LIFE?
A: Eviction has devastating consequences. Eviction means a family loses their home. As such, tenants are uprooted from their community, their neighbors and friends, and their children’s school. It is also common for people facing eviction to lose their furniture and belongings, which are either left outside on the sidewalk or moved to storage where you have to pay to get them back. Perhaps worst of all, eviction leaves you with a court record, which makes it incredibly difficult to find safe, clean, and stable housing, since most landlords will not take on tenants with an eviction on their record. In short, eviction perpetuates cycles of dispossession and housing insecurity.
According to Princeton University’s Eviction Lab, multiple studies have also tied eviction to job loss, higher rates of depression, and homelessness. In short, an eviction can send a family into a spiral of misery that is difficult to recover from. As Matthew Desmond, lead Eviction Lab researcher writes, “the evidence strongly indicates that eviction is not just a condition of poverty, it is a cause of it.”
Q: HOW WILL THIS PROGRAM BE FUNDED?
A: The program will be funded by an annual excise tax of $75 per rental unit, paid by landlords who rent property within the City of Denver. This is a small cost for a huge service.
Q: WHERE HAS THIS BEEN SUCCESSFUL?
A: Right to counsel initiatives have been successful in a number of other cities, including Boulder, San Francisco, and New York City. Right to counsel programs have been effective at keeping families housed. San Francisco found that 67% of renters with full-scope legal representation remained housed, including 80% of Black tenants.
While long-term impacts are still being studied, many cities have also seen cost savings as fewer families evicted means fewer families making use of emergency shelter and other safety net programs. New York City estimated that every $1 spent on legal representation in eviction cases saved $3 in city services.
Q: WON’T LANDLORDS JUST PASS THIS COST ONTO THEIR TENANTS?
A: Possibly. Weak tenant protection laws and the state-wide prohibition on rent control in Colorado leave landlords with the lion’s share of the power. It must be said, however, that an annual increase of $75 would amount to $6.25 per month and a guarantee of free legal representation in eviction court. Most landlords already increase their rent by substantially more than $75 a year, with no benefit to the renter.
Q: WON’T THIS ENCOURAGE TENANTS TO EVADE PAYING RENT AND TO ENGAGE IN OTHER ILLEGAL ACTIVITIES?
A: Not remotely. NEWR will guarantee tenants the right to free legal counsel in eviction court, nothing more. The vast majority of evictions occur when a tenant is unable to pay rent, and most evicting landlords do not accuse their tenants of abusive or destructive behavior. That said, the ballot measure does not tell a judge how to rule, and legitimate evictions may still occur when appropriate.