Landlord/Tenant Law – for Landlords

As a landlord, you may need legal representation for a number of reasons, including:

  • eviction of tenants following missed rent payments or other lease violations;
  • lease preparation and review;
  • advice and defense related to security deposit claims; and
  • claims for damages against tenants.

As an attorney, Eric D. Lund has represented landlords in hundreds of evictions and knows the process and pitfalls inside and out. We have also reviewed and prepared leases, handled security deposit claims, and pursued damages claims against tenants.

What grounds do I need to evict a tenant?

The most common ground for an eviction is non-payment of rent. A tenant can also be evicted for violation of other lease terms, such as causing damage to the property or disturbing other tenants’ quiet enjoyment of their own units.

Depending on when a lease’s term expires, you may also be able to simply not renew the tenant’s lease.

How do I start the eviction process?

If you’re evicting a tenant for non-payment of rent or violation of other lease terms, the eviction process generally starts with your delivery to the tenant of a three day demand for compliance or possession of the premises. There are a number of specific requirements for the contents of this document and how it is delivered, which can be found in Title 13, Article 40 of the Colorado Revised Statutes. Because of these requirements, it may make sense to hire an experienced eviction attorney to assist you with the process.

Evictions for particularly serious violations, such as acts that substantially endanger the person or property of you or others or commission of serious crimes, can be initiated through delivery of a three day notice to quit. The distinction between this notice and the demand described above is that the tenant will not have an opportunity to cure the lease violation in the case of a notice to quit.

A non-renewal of a lease is also generally initiated through delivery of a notice to quit. The amount of days that the tenant needs to be given depends on the lease term. For a lease term that is at least one month but less than six months, the tenant must generally be given twenty-one days notice before expiration of the current lease term.

Sometimes, receipt of a notice to quit or a demand for compliance or possession, especially if signed by an attorney, will be enough to convince a tenant to move out. If not, you may need to pursue an eviction lawsuit.

What does an eviction lawsuit generally involve?

Eviction lawsuits are initiated by the filing of a complaint in forcible entry and detainer. This can include not only your claim for possession of the property, but also a claim for damages, for example for unpaid rent or damage to the property.

The complaint, along with a summons, needs to be posted on the premises or served on the tenant(s). The summons must include an appearance date, called a return date, for the tenant to appear in court. If you do not have an attorney, you will also need to appear, however if you hire an attorney the attorney can generally go in your place to the return date. In most Colorado jurisdictions, the purpose of this initial court date is primarily to see if an agreement can be reached, typically for the tenant to move out on an agreed on date. Often, tenants will agree to this to avoid having a judgment on their record, or in exchange for waiver of a portion of a claim for past due rent. If an agreement is reached at the return date, is can be reduced to a written stipulation, which if properly drafted can serve as the basis of a judgment against the tenant if the tenant fails to move out on the agreed upon date.

If an agreement cannot be reached at the return date, the court will generally set the case for a hearing regarding possession of the property, which generally occurs about one week after the return date. You and/or your property manager will likely need to appear at this hearing, and present testimony and documentary evidence showing why the tenant should be evicted. The tenant will also be permitted to present exhibits and testimony at the hearing.

If the court rules in your favor at the possession hearing, which is generally likely if the landlord is represented by an attorney and has adequate grounds for the eviction, judgment will enter against the tenant. After a forty-eight hour waiting period, the court will be able to issue a writ of restitution, which can then be brought to your county sheriff’s department to schedule a time to physically evict the tenant. Movers may also need to be hired.

It is also worth noting that a second trial can be set for any claims for damages, after the issue of possession of the property is resolved. Colorado courts generally are unwilling to address damages claims at the possession hearing, as the applicable procedural rules provide for expedited hearings on possession claims only.

What do I need to do with the security deposit?

A tenant’s security deposit generally needs to be returned to him or her within thirty days of either lease termination or the tenant’s return of the premises to you, whichever occurs last. This period can be extended to up to sixty days in the lease agreement.

If you need to retain all or a portion of a tenant’s security deposit, Colorado statute requires that the tenant be provided with a written statement identifying the “exact reasons” for the retention.

It is important to promptly provide an itemization of the reason(s) for retention to a tenant, as well as the remainder of the security deposit, as if a tenant can show that a landlord willfully and improperly withheld even a portion of a security deposit the tenant can potentially recover three times the amount withheld, attorney’s fees, and costs.

What can I deduct from a security deposit?

You can generally deduct amounts due under the lease from the security deposit – past due rent, late fees, repair costs, etc. However, Colorado statute does prohibit deducting amounts for “normal wear and tear”. In the event that a tenant files a lawsuit over a landlord’s retention of a security deposit, the landlord is responsible for demonstrating that the amounts were properly withheld. Thus, if you do plan to retain all or part of a security deposit, it can be helpful to take photographs of damage before it is repaired, keep copies of quotes from contractors, and otherwise keep documentation supporting the amount withheld.