Denver’s considering forcing landlords to apply for licenses to rent their properties

After tackling group living laws earlier this year, city lawmakers are now setting their sights on another potentially sweeping change to housing.

City Councilmember Stacie Gilmore is proposing a law that would require property owners to get a license from the city to rent housing. A City Council committee approved her proposal Wednesday, and now it’ll be considered by the full council.

More than a third of Denver’s housing stock in 2019 was rentals, according to data from the Denver Assessor’s Office presented to the committee Wednesday. The city’s housing stock includes nearly 520,000 properties and units.

Gilmore said the goals of her proposal include helping Denver track rental units, giving the city control over whether those units are meeting certain standards, and improving communication between tenants and landlords. She said tracking units in particular would help the city make policy decisions and improve protections for renters.

“At the end of the day, this is a tool to keep our folks housed in our city,” Gilmore said.

Not everyone is on board. Peter Wall, of the Denver Metro Association of Realtors, voiced opposition to the bill during Wednesday’s meeting. Wall said that like the city, housing associations like his want to keep tenants safe and the city affordable. But he disagreed with the way Gilmore’s bill was trying to achieve those goals. He said association members have voiced concerns about the cost associated with the licensing process, and they’re worried that city inspectors would be involved in their business.

“We have a concern for mom-and-pop landlords,” Wall said. “We think the proposal as written disproportionally impacts them versus some of those larger apartment buildings and institutional owners.”

Denver Department of Excise and Licenses spokesperson Eric Escudero said Gilmore’s proposal would be the largest expansion of required licenses in the city’s history; the largest share, about 6,000, now goes to security guards.

Gilmore’s bill would require at least 54,000 new licenses. Here’s where those licenses would go based on estimates from the city:

  • 25,668 single family homes
  • 15,888 condos
  • 5,957 rowhouses (like duplexes)
  • 6,600 apartment parcels

The city won’t license apartments by unit, Gilmore said, but rather by parcel. The city has more than 145,000 units within those 6,600 apartment parcels. Under Gilmore’s bill, parcels could be a single apartment building or a complex with multiple buildings.

The license would need to be renewed every four years. Gilmore’s Chief of Staff, Magen Elenz, said inspections would be required when licenses are renewed or if ownership of the property changes. The inspection would be based on a checklist of minimum housing standards set by existing city laws.

Elenz said on-campus college housing, boarding homes, short-term rentals and commercial lodging properties would be exempt from the licensing program.

Penalties for violating the proposed law could include fines of up to $1,000 per infraction or losing the license altogether, which would mean a property owner wouldn’t be able to legally rent their space.

If it passes council, the proposal would be implemented in staggered phases.

Early licensing would open Jan. 1, 2022, before moving to full licensing for all single rental dwelling units required by Jan. 1, 2024. Application fees for the licenses would start at $25 for early licensing. Fees will cost $50 for each unit starting in 2024 and up to $500 for application fees, depending on the number of rental units.

Denver will host two community meetings on the proposal, on April 22 and April 24. More information on the meetings and how to join them can be found on the city’s website.

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Author: Esteban L. Hernandez

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