DENVER — Denver's new rental unit licensing program is off to a slow start -- and that might be a generous characterization.
As of Jan. 1, all landlords with multiple units at the same location (think apartment buildings) must pass an inspection and apply for a city license to comply with a new city-wide program. Starting in 2024, landlords with single-unit properties must be licensed as well.
The Department of Excise and Licenses estimated 25,000 multi-unit rental properties should be licensed under the requirement. As of Tuesday, it has licensed fewer than 10% -- a total of 2,167.
"We’re not where we need to be," said department spokesperson Eric Escudero. "But we’re actually off to a good start when you think about this as the largest expansion of required licenses in Denver history."
The program intends to eradicate so-called slumlords by ensuring a minimum standard for living conditions inside rental units.
"We’re not talking about granite countertops," Escudero explained. "What we’re talking about is making sure there’s running water, a functioning heater, no broken windows, no black mold, no pests -- just basically the minimal housing standards that everyone should expect when paying thousands of dollars for a rental property."
The Apartment Association of Metro Denver blamed a "lack of knowledge" for the slow uptake of landlords in the program, but it also said there's a shortage of inspectors -- whom landlords must hire on their own.
"There’s this huge pinch point and backlog of people unable to get licensed because they can’t get their units timely inspected," said Drew Hamrick with the Apartment Association of Metro Denver. "That’ll work out over time, of course, but it’s been a real problem with the implementation of that ordinance."
Escudero said when the license program first opened in March 2022, there were "only six companies we knew of who had the proper credentials to do the inspections." Now, he said, 35 people are listed as able to conduct the inspections on the city's website.
"We are very pleased to see so many different companies offering this service because it allows consumers to shop around for the best inspection company and shop for the best price, so we can keep the costs of getting a license low," Escudero said. Right now, he estimated the average cost to a landlord is about $250 between inspection and licenses fees.
Escudero said that, with time, the backlog of properties will start to clear. "Once strong enforcement begins, we also believe that will trickle up the compliance data for that licensing in Denver," he added.
By licensing all these apartments, the city is also collecting data about them, Escudero said. He said, for example, 87% of licensed properties have a smoke-free policy. In about 16% of cases, landlords pay all utilities for their tenants, but more than half pay for the water bill.
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