Q: WHO IS LEADING THIS INITIATIVE?
A: Renters. This initiative started as a living room conversation and is driven by a diverse coalition of renters in the city of Boulder. We are motivated by the belief that stable, affordable housing is essential to a quality life. 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: WHAT WILL A YES VOTE ACCOMPLISH?
A: This ballot measure will guarantee tenants in the city of Boulder the right to legal representation in eviction hearings at no cost to the tenant. It will also establish a renter education process that will notify Boulder renters of their rights.
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. In Boulder County, only 2% of tenants come to court with legal counsel, while 88% of landlords do. 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.
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, 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, they often have to leave 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. 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 Michael 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 rental license fee of $75 dollars per rental unit paid for by landlords who rent property within the City of Boulder. This is a small fee 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 San Francisco and New York City. Everywhere they have been tried, right to counsel programs have been effective at reducing the number of evictions. 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. Boulder aims to be the seventh such city.
Q: WON’T LANDLORDS JUST PASS THIS FEE 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.