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Colorado governor asks landlords to forgo evictions, penalties for late rent; forms business-response panel

There are nearly 300 confirmed coronavirus cases in Colorado. Four people have been killed by the disease.

Gov. Jared Polis gives an update about the extent of the coronavirus in Colorado during a press conference on March 11, 2020. (Moe Clark, The Colorado Sun)
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Gov. Jared Polis on Friday asked landlords and banks to be lenient toward Coloradans and keep them in their homes as thousands in the state deal with employment as a result of the new coronavirus.

COVID-19 IN COLORADO

The latest from the coronavirus outbreak in Colorado:

  • LIVE BLOG: The latest on closures, restrictions and other major updates.
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“You should not lose your home or your utilities simply because a restaurant was forced to close down to prevent hundreds or thousands of Coloradans from dying,” Polis said. “… We can’t ask people to stay at home to stop the spread of coronavirus if we’re not giving them the tools they need to be able to keep their home, whether they’re renting or whether they have mortgage payments.”

The Democrat asked that landlords refrain from imposing late fees on tenants until at least April 30 and asked that they also hold off on evicting people who don’t or can’t pay. He also asked local governments to avoid using law enforcement resources for evictions that don’t affect public safety.

Polis will also issue guidance to state-chartered banks that they should not foreclose on homeowners who can’t make their mortgage payments.

Additionally, Polis asked utilities to give leeway to customers who may be struggling to pay because of COVID-19, the disease caused by the coronavirus, and not cut off service. Xcel Energy and Denver Water have already taken this step.

“We want to make sure that the other utility providers across the state also are not disconnecting people in the middle of this crisis simply because they may be unable to pay,” Polis said.

Polis also asked banks to allow for a 90-day payment deferment for consumer loans — like student and auto loans — to ease the burden on Coloradans affected by the virus.

MORE: Colorado governor opens special health insurance enrollment period, closes salons, tattoo and massage parlors

While the steps unveiled Friday send a strong signal to the private section, they are guidance and not a binding order. Polis did not answer a Colorado Sun question Friday about why he didn’t choose to make the actions an order as he done with other business issues in response to the crisis.

The governor did issue one mandate regarding housing on Friday: that no state law enforcement resources — i.e. the Colorado State Patrol — be used for evictions that don’t affect public safety. Polis called it “leading by example.”

Polis also took steps to ease the tax burden on Coloradans and businesses that may be in distress.

He extended the deadline to file state income taxes for 90 days to July 15. Going a step further than a similar federal tax extension, he said the delay will impose “no conditions, no caps on the amount of tax that can be deferred for the 90-day period.”

“All businesses. All individuals. All filers will have that 90-day extension,” he said.

Polis said he also is encouraging local jurisdictions to grant businesses an extension on collecting sales taxes.

The guidance and regulatory changes unveiled Friday come after Polis in the past week shut down restaurants and bars to in-person dining until at least April 30. He also ordered casinos, gyms, salons, tattoo parlors, massage parlors and ski areas to close to slow the spread of coronavirus.

He’s called the moves difficult but necessary to prevent deeper economic damage to the state and to reduce loss of life.

Colorado Gov. Jared Polis gives an update about the extent of the coronavirus in Colorado during a news conference on March 11, 2020. (Jesse Paul, The Colorado Sun)

Polis starts economic response team

As he acknowledged the harm the virus and his subsequent executive actions are having and will have on businesses, Polis said he was looking ahead toward the state’s recovery.

He formed an advisory panel of top business leaders to try to blunt the swift economic impact. It’s chaired by former Denver Mayor Federico Peña, who said the effect of the virus on the economy will be “enormous.”

MORE: Virtual happy hour, barbell rentals, DIY craft kits: Colorado businesses share their coronavirus survival strategies

Other members of the advisory panel, which is expected to grow and make recommendations to the governor of regulatory relief, are:

  • Gary Arnold, business manager for Denver Pipefitters Local 208
  • Deborah Jordy, executive director of the Science and Cultural Facilities District
  • Dick Monfort, owner/chairman and CEO of the Colorado Rockies
  • Blair Richardson, CEO of Bow River Capital
  • Jim Crowe, retired CEO of Level3 Communications
  • Brad Feld, owner and founder of the Foundry Group

“This is a global economic challenge the likes of which I have not seen in my lifetime,” said Peña, who also served as the secretaries of transportation and energy in the 1990s. “The extraordinary impact we’re going to see on the state, not just on local businesses but particularly on individuals, is unheralded.”

State officials, including state Treasurer Dave Young and labor department Director Joe Barela, will also work with the team. Colorado Office of Economic Development chief Betsy Markey will coordinate.

In an email, Markey said that business executives were recruited this week and more private-sector leaders could be announced in the coming days.

“As essential as it is to have an aggressive public safety plan, it’s vitally important that we also confront Colorado’ s economic challenges head on,” she said in an email.

Polis said he is going to look at additional, immediate steps he can take to ease the burden on businesses. On Friday, for instance, he announced that the state is suspending rules so that restaurants offering takeout and delivery can sell alcohol to their customers.

“Speed is of the essence here,” Peña said. “We’ve got to help workers and companies that are struggling right now. Secondly, we want to demonstrate confidence to the broader economic players in the state that we are moving in the right direction.”

Cars line up during drive up testing for COVID-19 in Gunnison on March 20, 2020. Testing began in Gunnison last Friday, March 13, and is conducted every Monday, Wednesday and Friday from 10 a.m. to 12 p.m. by the Gunnison County Health and Human Services Department outside of their building. (Dean Krakel, Special to The Colorado Sun)

State changes testing plan

Colorado health officials on Friday also altered their testing plans for the state.

“We are rapidly working to scale up testing,” Polis said. “There are several technological ways to do that.”

The Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment is now using the state health lab — which had been doing most of the state’s testing — to focus only on conducting epidemiological surveys and other priority testing.

The Colorado National Guard will staff testing on Saturday for one such effort at the Chaffee County Fairgrounds in Salida. It is intended only for residents in the Chaffee County area who have a doctor’s note authorizing a coronavirus test.

In general, members of the public who believe they may have COVID-19 are now being advised not to seek testing. Those people should instead stay home for at least seven days, and shouldn’t go into public again until 72 hours after their fever has gone away and their symptoms are improving.

Even people hospitalized with suspected COVID-19 aren’t guaranteed a test through the state lab. In guidance issued to hospitals earlier this week, CDPHE said, “Facilities and providers should use internal or commercial lab testing for diagnostics.”

Those private labs have also been working to stand up and expand testing.

There are nearly 300 confirmed coronavirus cases in Colorado. Four people have been killed by the disease.

Rising Sun