COLORADO SPRINGS, Colorado — The rental market in Colorado Springs is expensive and there are additional financial barriers to finding new housing beyond just a deposit and first month's rent.
One local family has spent thousands of dollars on application fees and they're still looking for a place to live.
Jane Ocker and her family have lived at their current address in Lorson Ranch for the past 2 years. They've paid the rent on time every month but their landlord wants to sell. The lease ended Wednesday and Ocker said the landlord has already mention eviction.
"It isn't like we didn't want to move, but on August 6, I fell and broke my hip," she said.
House hunting is difficult enough without a broken hip. Many renters know the frustration her family has felt in finding phony listings on the web. These "catfish" scams use accurate addresses and real estate photos of properties to create fraudulent online advertisements.
"The rent amount was appropriate except that all of a sudden my son found the same house on a realtor's website," Ocker said.
She hasn't fallen victim to the scams, but they do make it harder to find legitimate listings. And yet, it's the applications fees that have hurt the family finances the most.
"I just paid one $325 to have them tell me, oh we already got that rented it, and I said what?!"
Colorado law allows landlords to charge tenants an application fee to cover certain costs like financial or criminal background checks. However, the fees are routinely charged for every adult in the home.
Jane lives with her adult son and his fiancee and two grandchildren who are just over the age of 18. A $50 application fee quickly multiplies to $250 for every home they seek to rent.
Ocker estimates they've spent at least $2,000 on application fees alone only to be turned down for the property each time. She also worries that all of these credit checks are harming her credit score.
Colorado law requires landlords to make a good-faith effort to refund any unused portion of an application fee within 20 days, but Ocker said that's never happened.
"Oh Lord, no. Totally non-refundable."
Since May, the Pikes Peak United Way has been working with local families who've fallen behind on rent to apply for assistance through the state's Emergency Rental Assistance Program. The funds pay landlords directly on behalf of tenants who are unable to pay rent because of financial hardship due to COVID-19.
Elizabeth Quevedo, the Director of Community Impact for Pikes Peak United Way said that the ERAP assistance can take 6-8 weeks to process and she encourages families who need help to apply quickly.
"You do have to be impacted by the pandemic in some way, loss of hours, loss of job, necessity to stay home and take care of someone or having them sick, anything like that," she said.
Applicants can apply for up to six months in back rent assistance and three months of current rent. The benefit can be continued in 3-month blocks for up to 15 months total.
"Our 211 call center does a fantastic job at keeping their pulse of which agencies have funding at the current moment, which ones can really help you the best," said Quevedo.
Ocker said she has reached out to 211 and other local programs for help. However, her family never missed a rent payment because of a COVID hardship. They just need more patience from their current landlord.
"I just want a roof over my head," Ocker said.
The family has been to multiple property viewings in the past couple of days. They're hopeful that one of them will work out.