Hunting for an apartment in Colorado can get expensive.

“I spent at least $370 on applications as a single person,” Jenee Donelson said. “They will tell you it’s not refundable; that the apartment was given to another. It’s like paying for a meal that you are not allowed to eat.”

Donelson, a housing advocate who works with 9to5 Colorado, told lawmakers during a hearing earlier this month she thinks she handed some of that money over in vain. She recalled one landlord who took her money and let her tour the apartment without mentioning that he wouldn’t accept someone with her rental history.

“I asked to get my application money back, and he said it was non-refundable,” Donelson said.

That’s why she’s backing a bill that would require landlords to disclose their rental criteria upfront – before someone hands over a single dollar.

The bill is HB-1127, and it’s working its way through the Colorado House of Representatives.

If it becomes law this legislative session, it would do four things:

  1. Ban landlords and rental companies from profiting off application fees.
  2. Require landlords to tell applicants about their screening criteria in writing.
  3. Limit how far back landlords can peer into a person’s background to seven years.
  4. And impose penalties against landlords who break the rules.

“The real problem is the penalties,” said Andrew Hamrick, a landlord/tenant law attorney and representative from the Colorado Apartment Association.

For example, the bill would give people double their application fee back if a landlord failed to disclose his or her rental criteria.

He likened to asking renters to pay twice their rent if they missed a month or double the cost of fixing a hole they kicked in a wall.

“You see the silliness in all that,” Hamrick said.

Hamrick’s concerned resonated with the Republicans on the House Finance Committee who voted against the bill in committee earlier this month. They were outnumbered 7-6 by Democrats who sent the bill to the House for a vote.

It’s likely the bill will make it over to the Senate chamber, but its success there isn’t guaranteed. Republicans have a one vote majority.