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April 12, 2023

Housing Protections for Victims of Wildfires and Natural Disasters Advance in House

DENVER, CO - The House Transportation, Housing & Local Government Committee today passed bills to expand reverse mortgage protections and strengthen minimum housing standards for tenants after a natural disaster. Both bills passed by a vote of 9-4.

“Wildfires, floods and other natural disasters have devastated communities throughout Colorado, including mine, leaving many to continue to struggle financially or suffer from negative health outcomes from the aftermath,” said Rep. Kyle Brown, D-Louisville, sponsor of HB23-1266 and HB23-1254. “These two bills expand tools that help homeowners rebuild after substantial damage and protect renters from having to endure living conditions that may cause short or long-term health issues due to damage stemming from a natural disaster. The last thing anyone should be worrying about when their community has been damaged in a wildfire is the long-term financial and health impacts.”

“After a devastating natural disaster, our vulnerable communities need extra protections to help them repair,” said Rep. Naquetta Ricks, D-Aurora, sponsor of HB23-1266. “Seniors who have relied on reverse mortgages to afford everyday necessities shouldn’t be made financially unstable by a natural disaster outside of their control. Our bill creates a residency exception so seniors aren’t forced to live in an unsafe environment simply because they’ve taken out a reverse mortgage.”

Reverse mortgages allow older homeowners to borrow from the equity of their home. Under current law, reverse mortgages may become due and payable if the homeowner does not reside in the home they are borrowing money from as a principal residence, with an exception for temporary absences up to one year.. HB23-1266 would create another exception to the residency requirement for homeowners when their property is uninhabitable due to a natural disaster or another major incident outside the control of the homeowner. This exception would allow a homeowner who is engaged in repairing the home and plans on reoccupying, listing for sale, or selling the house to live elsewhere for up to five years. 

“This law will better protect renters who end up living in a unit that causes negative health impacts due to wildfire damage or other environmental disasters,” said Rep. Javier Mabrey, D-Denver, sponsor of HB23-1254. “Renters should be empowered to raise issues in their home that impact their health and safety without fear of retaliation, this bill provides that peace of mind.”

Colorado’s “Warranty of Habitability” law requires a landlord to maintain their property to a standard that is considered safe and fit for habitation. A report conducted after the Marshall Fire called for the General Assembly to pass legislation to increase the standards to protect Colorado renters from unsafe living conditions. HB23-1254 bolsters renter protections in the state’s warranty of habitability by adding damage due to an environmental public health event to the list of conditions that make a property uninhabitable. It would also add additional protections for members of a vulnerable population, including allowing a tenant to terminate their lease if certain conditions are met. 

The bill also prevents a landlord from retaliating against a renter that makes a complaint about the living conditions.

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