Long-term rental licenses for Denver’s landlords going in front of a council committee
By one estimate, Denver has about 54,000 homes, condos, row houses and apartment complexes that are rented out. A new proposal before the City Council would require landlords to pay for long-term licenses for each property.
The measure from City Council President Stacie Gilmore would take years and hundreds of thousands of dollars to launch. But she argues it’s necessary to protect tenants, ensure landlords meet basic standards and collect basic contact information from landlords.
“For the first time in the city’s history we’ll be able to track our housing stock and understand how much we have,” Gilmore said.
She hopes the bill — to be heard by the council’s business committee Wednesday morning — will help the city better understand its housing stock and to target where and how to add more affordable housing. But housing advocates worry Denver’s rents will only rise with the possibility that landlords will pass the costs along to tenants, and landlords are concerned about costs and making their information publicly available.
The proposal would be the largest expansion of required licensing in the city’s history, according to Eric Escudero, spokesman for the city’s Department of Excise and Licensing. For context, security guards have the highest volume of licenses in Denver with just under 6,000 active ones, he said.
How it would work
Denver already requires people who want to let others stay in their properties temporarily through things like Airbnb or VRBO to obtain short-term rental licenses. The city’s Department of Excise and Licenses has had so much trouble getting companies to comply, though, that there’s a $1,000 fine for each illegal short-term rental transaction.
For long-term units, applications in Denver would cost $50 and the cost of licenses would range from $50 for single-unit properties to $500 for multi-family properties with more than 250 units, Gilmore said. Landlords would have to hold licenses for each rental parcel, not per unit, according to Magen Elenz, Gilmore’s chief of staff.
Rental houses will need to be inspected, but only 10% of an apartment complex’s units would have to be inspected at random, Gilmore added.
Her proposal is modeled after a similar program in Boulder, which started in the 1970s.
As of January, Boulder had about 9,500 active long-term rental licenses covering about 20,500 individual units, a spokesman for Boulder’s tax and special projects manager Joel Wagner said. The city’s website indicates a $190 application fee per license, which must be renewed every four years and units must be inspected upon the first application and for each renewal.
Long-term licenses in Denver would also have to be renewed every four years and would require inspections, Gilmore said. Landlords would have to hire private inspectors to cut down on the city’s workload.
The licenses would help keep problematic landlords in check and give tenants the ability to seek help from the city, Gilmore said. Officials could fine landlords that don’t meet housing standards and suspend or revoke licenses — though tenants would be able to stay through the end of their lease.
Plus, she said, creating a database of landlords and their properties would help the city track its housing stock and communicate with property owners and tenants about rental and utility assistance, Gilmore said.
First, there’s the cost: more than $430,000 to phase in the new licensing program by the end of 2024, Gilmore said, on top of an unknown amount in the years following.
The proposal also creates several concerns for landlords, according to Colorado Landlords Association President William Bronchick.
While landlords wouldn’t necessarily oppose the licenses, he said in an email, many prefer to remain anonymous so tenants can’t communicate with them directly.
“A registration that requires this information to be public would defeat that.” Bronchick said. “For example, I once had a tenant dig up my information and post nasty things on my Facebook page!”
He also questioned whether safety violations found during inspections would count against landlords even if they were caused by tenants, and noted that licensing fees “could get expensive.”
The Globeville, Elyria-Swansea Coalition Director Nola Miguel is worried that landlords will pass on the costs of licensing and required improvements or repairs to tenants. Her organization tries to protect marginalized neighborhoods and affordable housing.
“A lot of the most vulnerable renters are the ones living in the worst conditions,” Miguel said.
But at the same time, she said, the licenses do have an upside in creating a way for the city to ensure better living standards for tenants.
If the proposal passes Wednesday, it’ll move to the full council. With its blessing, landlords could apply for early licenses next year, Gilmore said, but would not be required to obtain licenses until Jan. 1, 2023.
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