Boulder says no — for now — to rent holiday for businesses, renters

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Saturday, March 28, 2020

There will be no break on rent for commercial businesses in Boulder — at least not one provided by the government. City council on Tuesday declined to implement a rent holiday, a suggestion of Mayor Sam Weaver as companies face declining or nonexistent revenue due to state-mandated COVID closures.

Though the historic $2.2 trillion stimulus package passed by Congress included billions in aid for small businesses, much of that help is in the form of federally guaranteed, low-interest loans. (Learn more about these resources from the Colorado Small Business Development Center.)

“Businesses are concerned of taking on debt to get by,” Weaver said. “They might never be able to get out from under it.”
The vast majority of Boulder’s 7,000 businesses have fewer than 50 employees, according to information provided by Yvette Bowden, head of community vitality. Small businesses provide half the jobs and 40% of wages in the city.

Boulder’s small businesses
96% have 50 or fewer employees
78% have 10 or fewer employees
Less than 1% have 250 or more employees

“We need our state and federal representatives to understand we’re going to feel this pain quicker than they are,” Weaver said. “These are our neighbors and friends.”

But the majority of council did not agree, preferring to wait for higher-level action to see what resources were made available. (The federal stimulus package had not been passed yet.)

Only councilman Adam Swetlik echoed Weaver’s plea to act with haste. “If we nitpick too much and it takes too long,” he said, “we may lose a lot of the people we’re trying to protect in the first place.”

Most council members felt that incentives were better than restrictions. Plus, even if Boulder wanted to, councilman Mark Wallach said, the government doesn’t have the power to alter private contracts like lease agreements.

It would be legally risky to do a rent holiday, City Attorney Tom Carr advised. There are multiple protections against “takings” of private property by a government entity. However, he said, the precedent isn’t completely set.

“There’s no case that says absolutely you can’t do it,” Carr said. “These are extraordinary times. You can do what you need to do, and we’ll defend it.”

Wallach felt that the economic reality would be enough to dissuade landlords from forcing tenants out: “No landlord who throws someone out is going to make money by doing so,” he said.

A group of commercial property owners, representing more than 1,200 tenants, signed a resolution “to agree to refrain from any eviction proceedings against tenants who need rent deferral, reduction, or abatement during the COVID-19 response.”

Boulder’s largest landlords, including Tebo Properties, W.W. Reynolds and Colorado Group, participated. The resolution also included agreements to “to make rent concessions … in a case-by-case fashion” and to help tenants “apply for federal and state relief.”

“(Property owners) will likewise seek relief from our own debt obligations to increase the opportunity that creates for even greater concessions to our tenants,” the resolution reads.

Read a play-by-play of Tuesday’s discussion here. Note: Some of the information in this thread, particularly in relation to the evolving COVID situation locally, will have changed since Tuesday.

Similarly, residential landlords have pledged to work with tenants. Boulder Area Rental Housing Association, a group representing residential property owners, earlier this month said it was developing and “affidavit” that renters could have signed by their employers to “certify” that their jobs had been impacted by COVID.

BARHA President Todd Ulrich said the group was was communicating to its members — who together represent roughly 14,000 dwelling units, or 63% of Boulder’s total rental housing stock — that eviction was not an option.
Legal eviction proceedings are unavailable through at least May 31, as the court has suspended non-essential cases. That was cited several times Tuesday a council mulled possible government action.

Despite the timeout, councilwoman Junie Joseph said she has received “quite a few” calls and emails from community members who are being “pressured” to move out.

“I want to ensure we protect people,” she said.

Are you a business or individual who is being pressured to make payments or vacate the premises? Contact boulderbeatnews@gmail.com

Director of Housing and Human Services Kurt Firnhaber recommended that renters and landlords utilize the city’s mediation services, which are being provided telephonically. Residents in need of rental assistance are encouraged to contact Emergency Family Assistance Association, which is providing funds to individuals and families.

Resources

City of Boulder mediation services: bouldercolorado.gov/community-relations/mediation-program

EFAA: efaa.org/get-help/what-we-do-2/ or call 303-442-3042 (Disclosure: The author works as a part-time paid consultant for EFAA.)

— Shay Castle, boulderbeatnews@gmail.com, @shayshinecastle
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