The prospect of having to find a new place to live can be a challenge any time. During a pandemic, it can be overwhelming, especially if you’re in the highest risk categories
That’s the situation Patricia Leslie finds herself in. The 78-year-old has mostly stayed put in her apartment since the coronavirus outbreak hit Colorado in March. She gets her groceries delivered or friends take her to the store for pick-up orders.
Leslie said she has been exceedingly careful because of her age and a disability. She has a letter from her doctor, which she shared with The Denver Post, that says she is “at high risk of complications and death if she should contract COVID-19.”
But the sale of the Denver apartment building where she has lived for 13 years has her “on pins and needles” about having to go out in public more and run the risk of contracting the coronavirus. She wants to talk to the prospective owners about staying in the building at least through January, when she hopes a vaccine will be available. She has asked the current owner to pass along her request, but hasn’t heard anything yet.
Gov. Jared Polis has issued a new executive order that reinstates a moratorium on evictions for people struggling to pay their rent because of job losses or other financial problems caused by the pandemic.
But it’s unclear if those protections would apply to Leslie. She hasn’t had problems paying her rent, although she said the building owner told her that rents “will go way up” if the sale goes through. She’s afraid that having to move will turn into a life-and-death situation for her with COVID-19 cases on the rise.
“I can read the data about the people who’ve died,” Leslie said. “I think if we are truly concerned in this community and state about elderly protections, I would like to see my landlord go the extra mile and help me work something out with the prospective new owners, or at least make them aware.”
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says the risk of severe illness from COVID-19 increases with age and for people with underlying medical conditions. Data from the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment show that of the state’s 2,223 deaths among COVID-19 cases, 23.26% were in the 70-79 age group and 52.72% were in people 80 and older.
Angela Cortez, spokeswoman for AARP Colorado, said before the pandemic, during workshops and seminars, she heard stories from older renters who had their homes or apartment buildings “sold from right under them.” She remembers one person whose rent jumped an addition $1,000 a month.
“For something like this to happen at a time like this is just the worst possible scenario,” Cortez said. “The best thing we can do is ensure that there are policies in place that address issues like this and ensure that they are widely communicated in many languages, especially to low-income older adults who really need this information.”
The state of Colorado is a member of AARP’s network of age-friendly states and communities. Cortez said community officials make a commitment to work with AARP on such issues as housing and transportation to accommodate people of all ages.
Patrick Noonan with Brothers Redevelopment, which develops affordable housing and offers non-emergency housing-related services, said health considerations might affect when an owner can show a tenant’s unit. But Noonan, the manager of the nonprofit’s Colorado Housing Connects program, said he’s not aware of rental protections “purely for public health purposes.”
A spokeswoman with the Denver Department of Public Health said she wasn’t aware of such provisions, either.
Brandon Blue, whose family owns the building where Leslie lives, said the sale of the site in the University of Denver neighborhood is set to close Nov. 2. He said he would notify the tenants this week. He declined to say who the buyer is.
“We’re working with Patricia. We’re passing on as much information as we can,” Blue said. “We’re not wanting to sell it, we just have to sell it.”
However, Leslie said a few days later that she hadn’t received an answer to her calls and letters to Blue about discussing her ability to stay in the building for a while when the property changes hands.
“It’s really scary. It’s life and death,” Leslie said.
Noonan said Brothers Redevelopment offers help in landlord-tenant disputes and could look at Leslie’s situation. “We would try to understand her situation in regards to rights and responsibilities, talk through her financial situation. Is this a situation where she might be protected by the eviction moratorium?”
Brothers Redevelopment’s calls for help “spiked through the roof” when the coronavirus first started spreading through Colorado, Noonan said. Activity slowed a little, but has picked up again. The organization is getting about 3,000 inquiries a month, compared to roughly 2,000 a month before the pandemic.
A piece of advice Noonan has for renters is to check whether their lease has expired. He said people who’ve lived for a while in one place don’t think about having the lease renewed and just continue month to month.
“In normal times it’s risky for somebody who wants to live in a place long term because a landlord could give a tenant 21-days notice that they need to move or face a rent increase,” Noonan said.
People sacrifice critical protections if they don’t have a lease, he said.
People across the state can call Colorado Housing Connects with nonemergency questions at 844-926-6632.
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