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State Lawmakers Push For 'Renters' Rights' Bill

By Shaun Boyd

DENVER (CBS4) - Finding an affordable apartment in Colorado is tough enough, but some people are spending hundreds of dollars just to apply for places.

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Two state lawmakers say it's time renters had some rights.

Rep. Dominique Jackson and Rep. Chris Kennedy are carrying a bill that would limit application fees to the actual cost of screening a prospective tenant.

"We talked about whether we wanted to set a specific dollar amount. We decided we did not, that it was okay for the landlords to figure out what those costs were," said Kennedy.

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But, the bill would require landlords provide an itemized receipt for those costs. About 40 percent of Coloradans are renters, and with apartment vacancy rates between four and six percent, many of them apply for several apartments before being approved.

Jenee Donelson is among them. She says she searched for an apartment for four years, spending $400 on application fees alone.

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Jenee Donelson (credit: CBS)

"At the first apartment I looked at, the application fee was $45. I spoke to the landlord only once. They never got back, not even to say whether or not I got the apartment."

One landlord, she says, charged her an application fee of $75 per apartment.

"This was dipping into my ability to buy groceries," Donelson said.

Jackson says the bill is aimed at landlords who use application fees to make money off people desperate for a place to live.

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"Right now in Colorado, landlords can legally charge whatever they want to prospective tenants."

Under the bill, landlords would also have to explain upfront the criteria they use in approving an application and a reason if it's denied.

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"It simply adds some fairness and transparency to the process," Jackson said.

Donelson says she's been honest with landlords about a previous eviction and misdemeanor conviction. All she asks for, she says, is the same in return.

"Most of the places that I applied to and gave money to never called me back or gave me the time of day," she said.

The bill includes penalties for violators. Landlords who don't abide by the new rules would have to pay back double the application fee plus attorney and court costs.

"Nobody is out to get landlords here. Nobody is out to do that, but there are bad actors and it's those bad actors, we want them to stop," said Jackson.

The Colorado Apartment Association opposed a similar bill last year, and it died. It's opposing this year's bill too, but is working with the sponsors on amendments.

The bill passed out of committee - with Democratic support only - and is headed to the House floor.

Shaun Boyd is CBS4's political specialist. She's a veteran reporter with more than 25 years of experience. Follow her on Twitter @cbs4shaun.

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