'No eviction without representation': Breaking down Denver Ballot Initiative 305

Initiative aims to give renters more protection in court in the form of a guaranteed lawyer when facing eviction proceedings
eviction notice
Posted at 7:42 PM, Oct 27, 2022

DENVER — Evictions in Colorado have risen to levels not seen since the start of the pandemic, surpassing 3,000 per month, according to the Denver Post. A ballot initiative in Denver aims to give renters more protection in court in the form of a guaranteed lawyer when facing eviction proceedings.

The rallying cry of advocates is “no eviction without representation,” with the belief that every renter in Denver should be entitled to a lawyer if facing an eviction, similar to the way they would be if they were charged with a crime. The initiative proposes a $75 per unit per year tax for landlords, which would result in a roughly $12 million fund for attorney fees.

“Representation works,” said Wren Echo, an advocate for the initiative. “Tenants who show up with a lawyer to court tend to win their cases most of the time. And what we’ve seen from other cities is when they provide universal right to counsel, like we’re hoping to do here, the eviction rate shoots down dramatically afterward.”

A fund for eviction defense already exists in Denver, but is only available to renters making less than 80% of the area median income. If Initiative 305 is passed by voters, the created fund would be available to all renters.

“Any kind of bureaucratic red tape that comes with means means that some of the most vulnerable people in our communities aren’t able to access that program,” Echo said. “Really, what we’d like to see is everybody represented, because then that would mean that they’re having the same rights that they would have in a criminal case.”

On the flip side, opponents of the initiative argue that the cost of $75 per unit will inevitably be passed from landlords to renters, at a time where rents are already increasing rapidly. Since the cost is the same for all properties, they argue it will be more noticeable on cheaper rents being paid primarily by poorer residents.

“Right now, Denver’s biggest problem is the high cost of housing, and adding $12 million in taxes on that is not a good idea,” said Drew Hamrick, senior vice president of government affairs for the Colorado Apartment Association. “An eviction is absolutely the tool of last resort. It’s about a 3-month process. It’s very expensive. You can’t get paid rent during the three months you’re in the process. So from the housing provider’s perspective, they’re trying to do everything they can to resolve the matter short of having to file an eviction.”

Initiative 305 will appear on ballots for voters living in the city of Denver. Election day is Tuesday, November 8, and you can check the status of your registration and ballot on the Colorado Secretary of State’s website.