Is it true that these amendments would permit more roommates to live together in a house? Why should this be allowed?
The Denver Zoning Code currently limits the number of people who are not related by blood who can live together as a household to two. This restriction doesn’t reflect how people live today and severely limits options for people to save on housing costs by having multiple roommates, combining households or living in multi-generational households. It is also out of step with neighboring Front Range cities, most of which permit at least 4 or 5 unrelated adults to live together. As part of efforts to confront an expected wave of unemployment and evictions caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, Gov. Jared Polis has asked Colorado cities to amend or eliminate barriers to unrelated people living together.
Additionally, the state of Colorado’s Group Home statute already requires Denver to treat a group of up to 8 people that fall within one of that statute’s protected classes (people over a certain age, people with mental or physical disabilities, etc.) as a household for the purposes of zoning.
The proposed change (as recommended to the City Council’s Land Use, Transportation and Infrastructure Committee in December 2020) would allow up to five unrelated adults (or a mix of 5 related and unrelated adults) to live together as a household in any dwelling unit. As is currently the case, there would not be a limit on the number of people permitted to live as a household when all residents are related to each other.
Are there any space restrictions for this number of people living together?
The proposed change would allow a maximum of five adults to live together as a household in any dwelling unit when not all residents are related. As is currently the case, there would not be a limit on the number of people permitted to live as a household when all residents are related to each other. The zoning code does not regulate children. Denver’s 2019 Building and Fire Code sets no limit on the number of people who may live together, as long as all safety requirements have been met (smoke alarms, safe entry and escape from sleeping areas, etc.).
What about bathrooms? Are there requirements for a certain number of bathrooms based on the square footage of house, number of bedrooms, or number of residents?
Yes. The Denver Residential Code, not the zoning code, establishes these standards, which will not change as a result of this project. A house of any size is required to have at least one bathroom.
What about potential health or fire safety issues?
Along with working to provide more housing options for residents, we want to ensure those options are habitable and safe. Our agencies will continue code enforcement to ensure buildings meet appropriate rules for safety and fire prevention. Regardless of the number of residents, dwelling units will continue to be required to have smoke alarms on every floor (including the basement), in each bedroom and just outside of bedrooms. Dwelling units for more than 10 people and all congregate care facilities must install an automatic fire sprinkler system. Residents can report building safety concerns to 311.
What about the impact on neighbors?
Noise and maintenance and other potential issues stemming from a larger household will continue to be governed by the Denver Revised Municipal Code and will not change. As is currently the case, enforcement will typically begin with a call to Denver 311.
How do you currently enforce complaints about unrelated adults?
Our Zoning and Neighborhood Inspections team responds to code enforcement issues and works with residents to ensure they are aware of and comply with zoning and property maintenance rules. Typically, when a complaint is made about unrelated adults, inspectors can ask for proof of relationships, which are considered on a case-by-case basis. Complaints may be submitted through 311 or Pocketgov.
However, as residents grapple with the impact of the pandemic, enforcing the number of unrelated people currently allowed to live together (2) is not a priority for inspectors. This is especially true if there are no visible impacts to the street or neighborhood that suggest the property is not safe or being kept properly. The intent of these rules is to reduce the impact of certain land uses on a neighborhood, not to target people for how they choose to live. If there is an external impact that constitutes a code violation, like too many cars, outdoor storage or overgrown vegetation, neighborhood inspectors will follow their standard process as outlined here: www.denvergov.org/neighborhoodinspections.
This approach is in line with Governor Jared Polis’ request to suspend limits on unrelated people who can live together to prevent homelessness among those who might be evicted or displaced during the pandemic. See Denver Post story: https://www.denverpost.com/2020/07/14/jared- polis-occupancy-limit-housing-boulder/
Won’t this give an opening to unscrupulous landlords to buy up large houses and rent out rooms?
No. This change would expand Denver’s definition of a “household” to include related and unrelated people living together as a family or the functional equivalent of a family. The code defines a “household” as a group of people living together as a non-profit housekeeping unit and who share all spaces, make decisions about the household together, and who have jointly chosen to live in the unit. Rent-by-the-room scenarios managed by non-residents would still be prohibited in single unit, two unit, and row house zone districts, as they are today.
People already rent out homes they own in Denver, and these amendments would not change that. However, it would clarify that households of unrelated people living as roommates are permitted – a scenario that occurs all over Denver and in all cities but which is not technically legal under the zoning code. While we do expect that this update will legitimize common housing arrangements, we do not expect it to change the way operators and owners of rental housing do their business. As is currently the case, all houses will have to meet building code requirements to provide basic needs (bathing and toilet facilities, functional kitchens, etc.) as well as building code requirements for efficiency, safety and fire protection. Additionally, operators and owners of rental housing could still choose to limit the number of people allowed to live in a home.
Will this option be available to an owner who wants to subdivide a large house into four separate bedrooms?
Any addition of bedrooms to a house would have to meet Denver Building and Fire Code requirements. Renting individual rooms to different people in such a scenario would be a change of use from a “household” to a rooming and boarding house, which is not permitted in single- unit, two-unit and row house zone districts. Anyone who made such a use change without a permit would be in violation of the zoning code.
“Subdivision” in the strictest sense could also mean dividing a house into completely independent dwelling units, each with its own sleeping, bathing and kitchen areas. This would not be permitted by the proposed change to the definition of “household.” Residential zone districts establish limits on the number of dwelling units permitted on a zone lot and would not change as part of this code update.
Are these changes eliminating “single-family” zoning?
No. Single-unit, or SU, zone districts, which comprise more than half of Denver’s land area, permit one dwelling unit per lot, and in some cases a second accessory dwelling unit. This will not change with these amendments.
Since homeowner associations (HOAs) set their own rules, can they avoid these potential changes?
HOAs or homeowner groups with deed restrictions do not set their own rules. They are required to follow all city, state and federal housing laws, including zoning laws that affect what may be done on a property. HOAs are allowed to add restrictions that go beyond existing city rules—such as setting stricter limits on the number of signs someone can put on their yard—but they can do so only as long as those additional restrictions are not discriminatory in nature and are not in violation of the federal Fair Housing Act.
Will there be restrictions on cars? How will CPD address neighborhood on-street parking issues?
The Denver Zoning Code currently allows one car per driver plus one additional car for each household. These proposed amendments would establish a new maximum of 6 vehicles, regardless of the number of licensed drivers, permitted to be parked on a zone lot. The Zoning Code does not regulate the public right-of-way (street parking).
Additionally, in residential areas where neighbors have raised concerns about on-street parking, resident parking permit systems, time limits and other strategies can mitigate issues. The city will continue to work with neighborhoods to find solutions as problems arise. For more information about the City’s permit parking programs and how to apply for one in your neighborhood, visit: https://www.denvergov.org/content/denvergov/en/home-page/permits.html
Will these changes encourage residents to turn front lawns into parking?
The Denver Zoning Code sets forth specific requirements for the design and surface composition of parking areas. Parking on lawns is not permitted. Additionally, the Zoning Code’s design standards for houses and other building forms establish the maximum area of front setbacks that may be used for parking based on lot width. Generally speaking, just over 30% of a front setback may be used for parking.
How does letting more people live together help our housing and homelessness crisis?
We need many strategies to address housing affordability. The household definition relates to housing affordability, which is one of many factors contributing to homelessness in Denver and other booming cities. We know that people are seeking more affordable housing options and that more people are living together to save on housing costs. This change is proposed, in part, to acknowledge everyone’s need for housing they can afford.
We do not expect this proposal to change the pricing of rent or property, but to allow more people to legally share those costs of one house if they choose to. This is one more tool in a series of tools and strategies that the city is implementing to tackle these complex issues.