A look at tenants’ rights according to the Colorado Warranty of Habitability and security deposit statutes.
Disputes between residential renters and landlords are a very common source of legal contention. Chiefly these disputes fall under two broad categories, either: 1) an question of the habitability premises or 2) a disagreement over security deposit return.
When some maintenance problem in a rented home or apartment has caused the unit to become inhabitable – this could be anything from pest infestation to a hole in the roof during a rainstorm – the issue falls under the Warranty of Habitability.
Alternately, a landlord and a tenant may have a serious difference of opinion as to what amount of the tenant's security deposit, if any may be properly withheld by the landlord after the lease has ended.
The Colorado Warranty of Habitability
If left unfixed, a number of maintenance issues could render an apartment or rented home unsafe or uninhabitable according to the Colorado Warranty of Habitability Act (Colorado Revised Statutes Sections 38-12-501 to 38-12-511), which is designed to protect the rights of rental tenants. These include:
- broken windows or doors
- broken or missing exterior locks
- insufficient waterproofing and weather protection on exterior roof and walls
- non-functioning plumbing or gas facilities
- lack of clean running water
- insufficient heating facilities, including lack of sufficient hot water
- defective electrical wiring and/or lighting
- infestation by rodents and/or other vermin
- insufficient trash cans
- unclean or rubbish-filled common areas under the landlord’s control (such as external walkways or shared hallways and stairs)
If any of these problems has been neglected by a landlord, in order to take advantage of the provisions of the Warranty of Habitability, the tenant is required to notify landlord of the issue in writing. This can be done using resources that are freely available online. Among these, a ‘warranty of habitability sample letter’ allows the tenant to inform the landlord of any unsafe or unlivable conditions such as those listed above, and to apply for a remedy to the situation.
Landlords are required to address such situations in a reasonable period of time. As a Bradford Publishing blog entry on tenants’ rights points out, a reasonable time to repair a broken front door lock might be between 24 and 48 hours, while a roof leak could take considerably longer to fix.
Most importantly, tenants are generally required to continue paying rent during this time.
Meanwhile, a tenant has some additional responsibilities, according to the Colorado Warranty of Habitability. These include:
- compliance with building and health codes
- maintaining reasonable cleanliness in and around the apartment or rental house
- responsible use of appliances, heating, electrical systems, etc.
- taking care not to damage or deface rental property
If, however, a problem is not addressed in a timely manner and the landlord is found to be uncooperative or unwilling to adequately remedy the situation, the tenant may wish to consult a lawyer and/or analyze what rights he or she may have under the statute.
The Colorado Warrant of Habitability guarantees the rights of the tenant and offers some protections to landlords as well. It provides notice and opportunity to repair to Landlords so that they can avoid frivilous legal actions, and it provides recourse for tenants when Landlords do not live up to their duties under the statute. No matter which side of the equation you fall out on, you should familiarize yourself with this powerful statute.
Another major source of dispute between renters and landlords is the security deposit. As most renters already know, security deposit funds are placed in something similar to a trust at the time the rental agreement is signed. These funds are to be returned when the tenant moves out, either in-full or partially if some of the deposit has to be used to pay the cost of repairs for damages explicitly caused by the tenant.
All tenants should know, however, that landlords are not allowed to keep security deposits without legitimate cause. Nor are they allowed to deduct costs for normal wear and tear on carpets, appliances, and the like.
The details regarding wrongful withholding of security deposits in Colorado is covered in the Colorado Revised Statutes, C.R.S.A. § 38-12-103(1). This section of the law states that a landlord must return a security deposit within one month (30 days) of lease termination, unless a longer period (of up to 60 days) is specified in the lease agreement. In case any portion of the deposit is retained, the landlord must provide a written statement with the exact reasons for withholding, and accompany this statement with payment for the remaining amount.
Moreover, the statutes state that if the landlord willfully retains a security deposit in violation of the law, he or she may be responsible for repaying up to three times the amount of the deposit along with any reasonable legal and court fees.
Once again, both parties to a lease are well advised to familiarize themselves with the protections offered by this statute. It provides clear expectations and sets out recourse for those that feel they have been wronged under the law.
As with all posts on www.PippengerHedberg.com - this article is intended as general information only and should not be taken as legal advice on any particular subject. If you have questions about the topics discussed in this article, Pippenger Hedberg Law advises you to contact an attorney familiar with the laws of your state to consult with.