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Rental Survival Kit

What You Need to Know About Renting in Boulder: For Novices and Veterans
(or: Rental Survival Kit)

by Mark Fearer *
(This article appeared in the Boulder Weekly on Aug. 10,1995.)

Almost half of Boulder pays rent for their home - and most have little idea what their rights and responsibilities are. Few escape the experience without some horror story, so here's some info to help minimize the horror.


The good news is that the city of Boulder has the best tenant laws in the Colorado. The bad news is that isn't saying much, since Colorado has the worst in the country. No joke.
Most landlords (LLs) fall into two categories - small or large (this doesn't pertain to their weight). Both have their advantages and pitfalls.
Small LLs (owners) are more flexible about rules, leases and rents. They tend to care about their property more and do repairs before the Second Coming. However, chances are they're probably less familiar with laws and their responsibilities. So they might be more likely to try and evict or raise rents without proper notice or procedure ("I want you and your stereo out tomorrow!") There's a fair chance they bought their lease from a store and don't know what some of it means.
Some small LLs depend on your rent for part (or all) of their income, although others see it as icing on the cake - they might have just inherited the house. Their rents can be a bargain (relatively speaking).
Large LLs (owners and property managers) are pretty much in it for the money, and have seen it all. Their leases are drawn up by lawyers to give them the maximum advantage in court. The rules tend to be fairly inflexible, as are negotiations. They know the laws, and how to use them. and they pay close attention to "the market" and what it will bear. Being that this their business, their rents are rarely bargains - but you'll get someone who knows what they're doing.


Some words about rents: you're a prisoner of the free market, and there's little one person can do. When the vacancy rate goes down (as it always does in late summer and early fall), rents go up. There is no rent control (LLs made sure it was banned 12 years ago), so rents can be legally raised to any amount, with no justification.
If you're on a fixed term lease (i.e. one year), you're protected from increases during the lease period - but it can go up, with no notice at the end of the lease. If you're on a month-to-month lease, ten days written notice must be given, and rent can go up as often as the LL can get away with and still keep you.


In Boulder, written leases are required, whether it's for a month or a year. And the tenant must be given a copy.
If you're going to try and negotiate anything, try to convince the LL to use the Boulder Model Lease - it's the best one out there. It was drafted by a group of tenants, landlords and neutral third parties, and tells both parties what their rights an responsibilities are. It's available through the city or CU Off-campus Housing.
But if you can't use the BML, don't sign a lease before reading it! Unfortunately, most leases are written in legalese, but don't let that intimidate you. Take it to someone who can interpret it for you (see sidebar.)
Why? A number of leases have unenforceable clauses in them that should be negotiated out, if possible. For example, many leases say the landlord is not responsible for anything, whether through their negligence or actions - few courts would enforce that.
But let's be honest - in a tight market, trying to negotiate your lease is like trying to negotiate a decent living wage in Boulder's restaurants. But you should try anyway, if for no other reason than to let the LL know that you know what you're talking about.
Keep in mind that leases are legally binding - you're responsible for however long you signed up for, whether you live there or not. Breaking a lease could end you up in court, especially if no one subleased. Pay attention to what the lease says about subleasing.


Most places ask for either two of your limbs, or a hefty deposit for the privilege of moving in. Getting back that deposit when you move out easily generates the most complaints, even though renters (unbeknownst to them) have a very strong law protecting that deposit.
Probably the single most important thing you can do for yourself while renting is doing a thorough checklist when you move in and out. Most tenants don't do it and often regret it later. When you move in, do a walk through with the landlord and write down everything that's dirty and broken, and make sure the LL signs it, with you keeping a copy of it. If the LL can't

won't do anyone of those steps, document it yourself.
Either get a friend (someone who doesn't live with you) to witness and sign a checklist and/or get pictures, or better yet, video (hey, its the 90's). Unfortunately, the best way to do this procedure is assume you're going to have problems after you move out, and collect evidence that would convince a judge of the righteousness of your cause. Do the same procedure when you move out.
While a renter can generally be held responsible for things like holes in the wall or setting the carpet on fire, they can't be held responsible for normal wear and tear. A number of LLs try to keep part of the deposit for things like painting, carpet cleaning or "general cleaning". If you didn't do anything out of the ordinary, those kind of things are usually the LLs responsibility, not yours.
A little known (but hard fought) law gives you 5.5% interest on your deposit, if you're in the Boulder city limits - but make sure it's in your lease. Small claims court is apparently not enforcing it unless it's part of the lease, although municipal court is now bringing fines against the LL.
The best kind of renter you can be is responsible and assertive in your rights.
This is not legal advice. Seek out legal or expert help for specifics in your case.