Group Living Rules

Current Rules and Definitions 

Denver's rules on residential uses were adopted by City Council in February 2021. The information on this page reflects current Denver law and addresses common misconceptions about what is and is not allowed.

Household Living

Household Living: residential occupancy of a “dwelling unit” by a single “household.” Tenancy is arranged on a month-to-month or longer basis. 

Dwelling Units:

  • Single-Unit Dwellings: a single dwelling unit in a single structure, such as a detached house
  • Two-Unit Dwellings: two dwelling units contained in a single structure, such as a duplex
  • Multi-Unit Dwellings: three or more dwelling units contained in a single structure, such as an apartment building
  • Live/Work Dwelling: a combination of residential and commercial activity located within a dwelling unit. Live/Work Dwellings permit commercial activity as a primary use and are allowed only in zone districts that permit a mix of commercial and residential uses, such as Residential Mixed Use, Main Street, etc. This is in contrast with the limited Home Occupations that are regulated as accessory uses and permitted in other types of Dwelling Units.  

A household: people who live together as a family or as the functional equivalent of a family, and who share household activities and responsibilities, such as meals, chores, rent, and expenses. The members of the household choose who is part of the household, not a landlord, property manager, or other third party. 

Types of households currently allowed:

  • A single person occupying a dwelling unit
  • Any number of people related to each other by blood, marriage or other committed partnership, adoption or guardianship
  • Up to 5 adults of any relationship, plus any minor related children
  • Up to 8 adults of any relationship with a “handicap” according to the definition in the Federal Fair Housing Act, and who do not meet this Code’s definition of a Congregate Living or Residential Care use
  • Up to 8 older adults (55 or older) who do not meet this Code’s definition of a Congregate Living or Residential Care Use 

Where household living is allowed

  • All zone districts where residential uses are allowed

For more information, see Denver Zoning Code Sec. 11.12.2.1 

Congregate Living

Congregate Living encompasses all uses with more people living together than allowed in a single household, but where some type of care is not required and where individuals each have a separate contract or agreement with the property owner. Residents may share sleeping units, and may have shared cooking, bathroom and common areas, or some combination of personal and shared facilities, but do not necessarily occupy a dwelling unit jointly as a family would. Tenancy is arranged on a month-to-month or longer basis.

Types of congregate living currently allowed include (but are not limited to)

  • Rent-by-the-room configurations, such as rooming and boarding houses or student housing.
  • Campus dormitories that house students, including a building used for members of a fraternity or houses officially recognized by a college/university, or seminary.
  • Permanent tiny home villages.

Where congregate living is allowed

  • Multi-unit residential and mixed use commercial zone districts
  • Congregate living uses are prohibited in single-unit and two-unit residential areas. 

For more information, see Denver Zoning Code Sec. 11.12.2.2

Residential Care

Residential care encompasses structures where guests receive treatment, supervision, emergency shelter, personal care, protective oversight, or other similar care or services, from staff on-site as a condition of the guests’ residency. (This does not include care provided by domestic employees or home-care workers.) Tenancy may range from overnight to 30 days or longer. 

A guest: a person who stays overnight, regardless of total length of stay, to receive care or services. Staff and volunteers who live elsewhere, but stay overnight while working or volunteering are not considered “guests.” 

Residential care uses include but are not limited to:

  • Shelters
  • Community correction facilities and halfway houses
  • Recovery residences (also knows as sober homes or sober living), where a guest’s participation in a program of supervision, treatment, or care is required
  • Rehabilitation facilities.
  • Assisted living facilities
  • Nursing homes or hospices

Residential care uses types are further defined and distinguished by number of guests as follows.

Use type Where they are allowed  Additional requirements 
Type 1: up to 10 guests year-round, or up to 100 guests for a maximum of 130 days per calendar year.

 

All districts where residential uses are allowed, except community corrections facilities are not allowed in single-unit and two-unit zone districts
  • Zoning permit required unless facility is operated by a religious organization.
  • Density requirements apply in single-unit, two-unit or row-house districts
Type 2: 11 to 40 guests All districts where residential uses are allowed, except community corrections facilities are not allowed in single-unit and two-unit zone districts 
  • Zoning permit required
  • Community information meeting required in single-unit, two-unit and row-house districts
  • Minimum parcel size applies
  • Only allowed where Residential Care or other institutional uses such as church, school or government office were previously established in single-unit, two-unit and row-house districts 
Type 3: 41 to 100 guests Higher-intensity zone districts that allow apartments, commercial uses, etc.
  • Zoning permit required
  • Community information meeting required
  • Spacing requirements apply
Type 4: 101 or more guests Higher-intensity zone districts that allow apartments, commercial uses, etc.  
  • Zoning permit required
  • Community information meeting required
  • Spacing requirements and density requirements apply

 Download Summary of Residential Care Regulations

For more information, see Denver Zoning Code Sec. 11.12.2.2

 


Fact-Checking Misconceptions

What we’ve heard: Is this true?
“These rules will increase density 150%.” This is very unlikely. Data from 40 cities across the U.S. show the average household size is 2‐3 people, even in cities that allow 5 or more unrelated adults to live together. For people who live with up to five roommates in total, current rules make their living situation legal, but zoning codes do not make people who otherwise would not have moved in with roommates suddenly do so. While our household rules provide legal options for Denverites who may want roommates, our average household size across the city will likely remain unchanged from what it is today (2.3 residents/household).
“These rules allow homeless shelters in all neighborhoods.”

This is misleading. Even before group living rules were updated in 2021, shelters operated by churches, nonprofits and government agencies were already allowed citywide, including in residential areas. Some could operate year‐round, and others could only operate seasonally or in emergencies.

The rules were updated to provide clearer criteria for emergency expansion of shelters, allow operators to offer multiple housing types to assist guests as they move through a continuum of housing toward housing of their own, and allow existing downtown shelters (which were effectively “frozen” in place due to non‐conforming status and bed limits) to make renovations to more effectively serve guests. The recent rules update did not “open up” new neighborhoods to shelters.

“These rules allow shelters in neighborhoods to expand to 100 guests for 130 days.” This is also misleading. Laws in the books before the 2021 update already allowed shelters in neighborhoods to serve 100 guests for up to 120 days per year. The update changed the 120‐day limit to 130 days to ensure that a network of three providers (such as three churches) could provide shelter year‐round.
“There are no buffers from schools for shelters or community corrections.”

This is misleading. Prior to the 2021 rules update, existing laws already allowed shelters of up to 100 people for 120 days/year in residential areas, without buffers from schools. Denver Public Schools estimates that ~2,000 of its students experience homelessness in any given year, many of whom live in shelters or other emergency housing. Moreover, about half of Denver’s existing community corrections facilities were already within 1,500 feet (the “buffer” zone) of one or more schools. The buffers were not a functional way to regulate these facilities and they did not prevent new schools or childcare providers from opening within a buffer zone.

Now, current rules establish spacing and density requirements designed for large residential care facilities, including shelters and community corrections, to prevent a concentration of facilities in a given area.

“These rules allow unlimited cars per household.” This is false. Current group living rules include a parking requirement limiting the number of cars allowed to one per licensed driver, plus one additional car for each household, up to a maximum of six on a property. Before 2021, there was no maximum number, meaning households could have as many cars as they had drivers, plus one more car. The current vehicle maximum applies to all households with single‐unit, two‐unit, or row‐house zoning in Denver. Additional parking regulations, such as municipal code rules prohibiting inoperable vehicles and governing street parking, also apply and were not changed by the Group Living amendments.
“These rules prohibit ability of neighbors to object to homeless shelters.” This is misleading. There is no requirement that shelters have neighbor support. The rules update in 2021 created a NEW requirement to ensure neighbors are notified when the city receives a permit application for any residential care facility that would serve 11 or more people and requires operators of these facilities to meet with neighbors before applying for permits. These requirements did not exist before 2021.
"These rules commercialize single‐family neighborhoods.” This is false. Current rules prohibit commercial scenarios, like “rent by the room,” in areas zoned single‐unit, two‐unit, or row house (up to 2.5 stories).
“5 people ‘and all of their relatives’ could move in next door.” This is false. Current rules impose a maximum of five unrelated adults, or five related and unrelated adults. The only way to exceed this maximum is if everyone in the home is related, which is what has always been allowed. Five adults is in line with other cities along the Front Range. Allowing up to five unrelated adults to live together is in line with other cities along the front range.
“City inspectors can’t view photos submitted to 311 or Pocketgov.” This is false. Inspectors have access to photos in the office and via an app on their mobile devices in the field and were recently re‐trained on how and when to view photos. Moreover, inspectors collect their own evidence. When citing someone for a violation of the municipal or zoning code, we do not rely on evidence gathered by neighbors; but rather, document the violation ourselves. Taking our own photos also allows us to protect the anonymity of the person who initially submitted a complaint.