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Longmont City Council on Tuesday will consider whether to schedule votes in October on an ordinance that would temporarily prohibit landlords from charging COVID-19-impacted tenants late-fee penalties for late rent payments.

City staff prepared a draft of a possible ordinance for discussion at Tuesday night’s City Council study session after council members voted 6-1 on Sept. 1 to support Councilwoman Polly Christensen’s motion to have staff schedule the issue for a future meeting.

The potential ordinance up for discussion Tuesday “mostly replicates” a similar ordinance that Broomfield adopted in August, Longmont’s staff said in a memo to Council.

The Longmont measure, in its current draft form, would not exempt tenants from their obligation to pay the late rental amounts at some point. But it would temporarily prohibit property owners from assessing fees for late rental payments, if the tenants cannot pay those rents on time because of a COVID 19-related hardship, staff said.

The ordinance would suggest documentation that residents could use to establish that hardship claim. Such documents could include “a layoff notice, a letter or other statement from the tenant’s employer attesting that the tenant’s employment and associated compensation has been suspended, reduced or terminated as a result of the COVID-19 emergency,” or “documentation showing that the tenant or a member of the tenant’s household who contributes to the monthly rent payment has been diagnosed with, or has been hospitalized or received medical care for COVID-19,” or “other evidence of financial or health-related hardship related to the COVID-19 emergency.”

Longmont’s late-rental-fees prohibition would end with the expiration of the current Centers for Disease Control and Prevention eviction moratorium order — one that’s currently set to last until Dec. 31 unless the federal agency extends, modifies or rescinds it — or when Gov. Jared Polis rescinds Colorado’s current state disaster-emergency declaration, the staff said.

The draft ordinance would establish a fine, of up to $500, for landlords who proceed to charge late-rent-payment fees in violation of the local prohibition.

“Because of the short turn-around time to bring this proposed ordinance before City Council, staff wanted to note that this draft ordinance was prepared without further investigation into the extent of this problem for Longmont tenants, nor with input from Longmont property owners, tenants and other interested parties,” staff wrote to Council.

Staff also wrote that without that input and additional analysis, it was “concerned about unintended consequences associated with this draft ordinance.”

“For example, staff is aware that some property owners are now requiring two month’s rent up front, in addition to a security deposit, as a result of extra costs they may now need to carry as a result of COVID-19 restrictions.”

Staff said one option to a late-fee ban might be for the Council to consider placing a cap on those fees instead.

For example, late fees could be limited to no more than 3% of the monthly rent amount and could not be assessed until five days after the date rent is due, staff said — “in other words, mandating a grace period and an opportunity for communication and resolution. This strategy recognizes that property owners … and tenants both need to be able to thrive,” staff wrote.

Longmont’s staff also noted in its memo that Polis has appointed a new temporary eviction prevention task force within the Department of Local Affairs to examine housing instability because of COVID-19. The panel is expected to present its recommendations to the department and the governor by mid-October.

“Some of the ideas being discussed thus far include: requiring property owners to provide information on available assistance at first missed payment; requiring property owners to apply for Property Owner Preservation assistance before they can evict for non-payment; and ensure all court materials are accessible to persons with limited English proficiency and persons with disabilities,” Longmont staff said.

It said that while the governor’s task force has not yet discussed late fees, “that discussion is likely.”

Longmont staff said, “There is value in addressing housing stability from a longer-term, comprehensive perspective, if not at the statewide, then at a countywide level. If each jurisdiction has its own rules and enforcement, it becomes much more complicated and difficult for all to navigate.”


If you watch

What: Longmont City Council study session

When: 7 p.m. Tuesday

Where: Council and city staff members will be participating from remote locations. Residents can watch the meeting by clicking “play” on the video link within the interactive agenda window.

Agenda: tinyurl.com/yxnab8d7

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