Petition calls for free legal services for tenants facing eviction

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NEWR Denver submitted more than 13,000 signatures in hopes of securing the deal in the November 2022 ballot.

DENVER – A recently submitted petition could allow voters in Denver to decide whether tenants facing eviction should receive free legal services.

The campaign group behind the effort is called NEWR Denver, standing for No Evictions Without Representation. The group recently submitted more than 13,000 signatures in hopes of securing its number in the November 2022 ballot.

“The goal is to keep people in their homes,” said activist Wren Echo, who has spent the past few months reaching out to the group.

If the petition results in a vote measure, voters will decide whether landlords should be subject to an excise tax, which would require them to pay $ 75 per year for each rental unit they own. The money generated by the tax would then create a fund for free legal services for those threatened with eviction. NEWR Denver estimates that it would generate around $ 13 million per year to pay lawyers who provide the free services.

“The problem is that homeowners are evicting people at these very high rates,” Echo said. “They’re driving people out of their homes. It seems fair that they are charged with making sure they get a fair chance and that they are only kicked out if they deserve it.

Tenants would not necessarily be required to use free legal services, but anyone facing an eviction could access the program.

The group will have to wait until mid-October to find out if they have received enough validated signatures, but they said that overall, feedback on the petition alone has been positive.

“We pretty much expect that if we can get people’s attention, it will get broad support. Really, the only people who said anything negative about it were really the owners, ”Echo said.

William Bronchick, president of the Colorado Landlords Association, said it shouldn’t be the landlord’s responsibility to pay the tenant’s legal fees through tax in addition to their own attorney fees, if the landlord case was taken to court.

“Tenants get all types of funding and resources from government – federal, state and local,” Bronchick said. “Homeowners really don’t get much, and not all owners are monopolies with a lot of apartment buildings. “

Bronchick said that in general tenants have a right to a lawyer, but not necessarily to the detriment of those they will face in court. Critics of the petition also argue that the cost can be passed on to tenants.

“As with any government program, there will be room for abuse. People who don’t pay rent have no legitimate reason not to pay it and can abuse it by hiring a lawyer to present defenses that are not valid, ”Bronchick said.

Small owners, for example those who rent a property, will be exempt from paying the tax.

The initiative could make Denver the second city in Colorado to do so, with Boulder passing it in 2020.

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