The Unrepentant Tenant last described tenant activism in Boulder in the 1970s, with the Boulder County Tenant’s Organization (BCTO) based on the CU campus and securing county funding, office space and the CU student government support. Unfortunately, the strings attached to these funding sources dampened BCTO’s activism, and by the late 1970s BCTO was mostly limited to advising tenants and landlords on issues such as eviction, lack of repairs and the loss of their deposits. While that was helpful, it wasn’t enough.
In 1980, Kathy Partridge, Jay Jurie and Chris Goodwin started the Renters Rights Project (RRP) due to the lack of protections for the half of Boulder’s population who rented. I joined soon after, and since there hadn’t been any tenant activism in years, RRP started making demands of the Boulder City Council and making headlines.
A new improved lease
A long-standing issue for tenants was (and still is) leases – which are legal contracts – that favored landlords and often contained unenforceable clauses, written in legalese. Although contracts are supposed to be negotiated, given the inherently unequal power between tenants and landlords, this is rarely the case. When was the last time you even tried to negotiate the terms of your lease, let alone get the landlord to agree?
So, one of RRP’s first issues was to advocate for a fair standardized lease that would set out the rights and responsibilities of both parties in plain English that all landlords should use.
Knowing that the city council was unlikely to pass such an ordinance, RRP launched a legal petition to put the issue on the ballot – a tool that would be used many times in the future, with mixed success.
Predictably, Council balked at the idea of a mandatory fair lease, and the compromise was to form a committee of landlords, tenants, and impartial parties to draft a model lease that would be voluntary. The committee met for nearly two years (Chris Goodwin and I were there) and eventually created the Boulder Model Lease (bouldercolorado.gov/media/735/download?inline) in 1982. Although the landlords helped to negotiate the Boulder model lease, none used its original form, and it is likely that few landlords use it now. If you rent, you should ask your landlord to use it, and if they don’t, ask why.
The elephant in the rented room
Several months after advocating for better leases, RRP has tackled the big issue: rent control. I summarized this story in my first column (The Unrepentant Tenant, “Boiling Frogs,” March 10, 2022). Result: Although very popular (then and now), rent control has been banned throughout Colorado since 1981. Although the state legislature crushed local efforts to deal with the rental crisis, RRP remained fearless and got back to work on other issues.
Prohibit discrimination against families with children
A number of landlords refused to rent to families with children, and in 1980 the city’s Human Relations Commission (HRC) – at the request of the RRP and other groups – recommended that the city council ban this form of discrimination. Naturally, the owners pushed back, and the Council didn’t want to deal with it, so it referred the matter to the HRC, and then to the City Council, throughout 1981.
RRP/BTU will continue to work with the HRC over the next few years to promote better protection for tenants. The HRC viewed landlord-tenant issues as human rights issues and were generally receptive to such protections, although the majority of the city council was not.
Merger of common interests
Until 1982, the BCTO continued to focus on providing information to tenants and landlords about applicable laws, although as non-lawyers members were not permitted to give advice. legal. The Renters Rights Project worked with the BCTO and proposed to merge the two groups, combining advice and advocacy. Both groups agreed and the new unified group resurrected the name Boulder Tenants Union, reminiscent of early 1970s activism. The owners were less than happy with the new group’s name and direction and formed their own group to counter BTU’s desire for better protection. Later, BTU left campus but continued its advisory and advocacy roles.
New era of advocacy
The renewed BTU offered a variety of protections for tenants, while still advising tenants and landlords. Although they shelved the previous year’s proposal after lobbying by landlords, the city council eventually passed a ban on adult-only housing in 1982, with some exemptions (i.e. housing for seniors, homeowners). It was the BTU’s first legislative victory.
That same year, Boulder’s model lease was approved by the city council, but only for voluntary use.
Over the next two years, BTU offered a series of other protections, including a livability guarantee, protection against eviction for just cause, the creation of a housing commission, interest on deposits and the Protection of private life. At the time, none of these protections existed and only a few exist now. In my next column, I will discuss these proposals in more detail.
In 1983, BTU succeeded in having the city council pass an ordinance requiring that leases be in writing (if they exceed 30 days) and that tenants obtain a copy of the lease.
At every turn, landlords fought the simplest proposals, invariably claiming that even the slightest change (i.e. requiring a written copy of the lease or interest on deposits) would incur significant costs and administrative burdens, resulting in higher rents. They failed to mention that rents have routinely risen well above inflation in the absence of any of the proposed regulations.
This opinion column does not necessarily reflect the views of Boulder Weekly.
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