By now you may have read that long term rental units in the city will be registered and required to have periodic safety inspections. If not, check out Eric Heinz’s writeup.
While no legislation is perfect, this program is a meaningful step forward both to help the city address our housing crisis and to protect ethical tenants and landlords alike. By registering properties, the city can better understand how much housing stock is being used as rental properties (city estimates say at least 37%, some estimates as high as 50%), which will allow the city to better decide policies around development.
The more immediate effect, however, is that tenants will finally have some basic protections. Compared to many other cities and states, Colorado has almost none, and Denver didn’t have any notable protections beyond the state laws.
There’s some details to be worked out in the rulemaking process, just as with any legislation, but let’s be clear that this bill isn’t onerous to landlords. Requiring that properties meet basic requirements like heat, water, safe emergency exits (such as appropriate windows in basement units), a functional electrical system, and be pest free are not excessive. No one is going to require owners to gut and redo older homes, despite the fearmongering some opponents are claiming. The requirements for an inspection every four years also protects all ethical parties, including the owner, who can point to the inspection as proof their home is safe if issues arrive.
Part of the controversy, of course, is simply that the idea is new to Denver even though it’s common elsewhere. When I go eat at a restaurant, I’m glad that periodic inspections mean their kitchen probably isn’t full of roaches. I don’t think asking the same of a place I might live is strange. No one questions restaurant inspections and the idea of removing them would be ludicrous.
The current laws are in no way sufficient. As someone who has rented five homes in North Denver, I’ve seen the good, bad, and fugly of our community’s rentals. I’ve been fortunate to rent from two great landlords. One became a close enough friend to invite to my wedding. I’ve also rented a house where the water poured into our dining room every time it rained. When I complained, the property manager said they didn’t know why we were complaining — the landlord had already “fixed it” several times. They tried to keep our deposit when we left, in part because of dirty water in the dining room after our move out. In another case, a house turned out to be so badly infested that we lost most of our furniture and we had to use Colorado’s meager warranty of habitability law to get out. While we eventually won in court, it was a pyrrhic victory as we lost thousands of dollars and were only able to recoup our deposit (which they again tried to illegally keep).
My story isn’t unique in the slightest. A few years ago I met a North Denver couple moving out of a house because they had no heaters. The landlord told them the exposed hot water pipes from the unit above served to heat their house.
To the best of my knowledge, none of those homes have been meaningfully updated and all are still renting. In all three cases, a basic inspection would have resulted in forcing the owner to make improvements.
The cost of registration and inspections? Inspections of this type are less than full home inspections of the type someone does when buying. Other Colorado communities with similar laws state they cost around $150. The city estimates it will be about $4/month per home between the inspection and registration fees.
For those landlords crying crocodile tears that they will have to raise rents on their tenants, I’m left wondering what is so wrong with their properties that they think basic habitability repairs will force them to spend so much money. If there are repairs that are needed, it’s already their obligation to fix it. This just adds some teeth to habitability requirements. Nearly every landlord is already charging the maximum they possibly can in Denver’s hot market, so currently tenants are paying inflated rates for substandard options. Is there a single landlord out there who thinks they were charging $4/month less than they could?
For those who are claiming this law will make them sell their properties and get out of the business…great! If you haven’t noticed, our community is facing an unprecedented shortage of for-sale homes appropriate for first time home buyers. If a law that says you need to keep a home habitable is enough for you to leave the industry, it’s probably best for everyone involved that you do. I think I can speak for a lot of renters when I say we welcome seeing those homes go on the market; many of us may actually be able to afford to buy if inventory increases. When someone buys them, I bet they will take better care of them than a landlord who fought against basic upkeep requirements, so neighbors will have a reason to rejoice as well.
Thank you Council President Gilmore for your work on this issue and to the entire Denver City Council for your unanimous vote in support of basic rental protections. We have a long way to go, but it’s a great start.
David Sabados is the publisher and editor of The Denver North Star.