Denver, Exclusives, Housing, Uncategorized

Gaines: Denver rental licensing scheme misses the mark

When my wife moved out to join me in our new life on the Eastern Plains, we were stuck with what to do about her condo in Denver.  Should we sell?  Rent it out?  Ultimately we decided to keep the condo and rent it.  The income it provided could help defray the lost income from her staying home to care for our coming child (we’re both teachers and neither of us had the money to live entirely on one income).

The condo has served us well.  It did indeed give us the income we needed.  We’ve been lucky in having tenants that paid on time and didn’t cause problems, and, I think, we earned that luck by working hard to maintain good relationships. The condo was in beautiful condition when it rented, we’ve kept up on maintenance, and have been quick in responding to any issues.  This mutually-beneficial relationship shows in the fact that over the past 6 or 7 years of renting, we’ve had only two different tenants.

In 2021, Denver City Council passed a law requiring all rental properties to be licensed with the city, with 2024 the deadline for landlords like my wife and I to get one (the deadline for multi-unit owners has already passed).  We were all set to miss the deadline.  Call us uninformed citizens, but with a child, and both of us working full time now, the requirement slipped our minds.  Thankfully, we caught it in time.

The process to get the license has thus far (as of this writing I have still not yet completed it) been expensive both in terms of time and money. I already had an intellectual sense of the disparate costs that Colorado’s various regulatory burdens places on small businesses, but trying to get this rental license squared away has given me a new appreciation of the problem, a visceral sense of exactly how this works.

As you might imagine with any governmental agency, just getting to the point of application for a license involves more brain damage than I care to total up.  Amid all of the training videos online, the registering for an account, the multiple times I had to enter my name, my email, and my address for the various online folders in the City of Denver’s Permitting and Licensing site, I almost lost track of the joys of trying to figure out what box to click, how to license my “establishment” (this is a condo that we rent remember), and figuring out just exactly what the hell a “natural person” is.  I like to think myself a reasonably intelligent man–my degrees are in physics and I read widely–but I struggled mightily with this.

I cannot imagine how this would look to someone less tech savvy, say, someone who is older and renting out a room above their garage.  Good luck to you all.

Then we came to the money. The inspection will end up costing us $200–on top of the $50 to the city–every 4 years, assuming that the prices on inspections don’t go up or the city doesn’t decide it needs more revenue.  Care to take a bet on that with me?

As I stated above, neither I nor my wife is a professional landlord. We’re not a large corporation with full time managers or compliance professionals to handle this for us while we laugh in the sun and get our nails done.  No, dealing with extra regulations like this requires a choice.  I can either pay retail and have someone do this for me, or I can take time away from other things to fit it in around an already busy schedule of jobs and running a home and family.  Further, it takes money from my pocket, money that could have been used for my family.  I don’t know about you, but there’s precious little of that to throw around these days.

As I sat glaring at my computer screen while filling out the application, it occurred to me to wonder if anyone at Denver City Council understands that not all tenants are the same and not all landlords are the same.  That is, perhaps reality is a little more complicated than the us vs. them, slumlord vs. oppressed tenant dynamic they envision.  I do genuinely wonder if this crossed their minds.

I wondered too why the media narrative around this falls into two camps as well:  stories about people living in roach-infested slums, next to op-eds by apartment industry heads that discuss aggregate costs and burdens in a general way.  I did actually try contacting a Denver Post reporter a while back about small-time landlords like us selling due to frustrations over increasing regulations from both the state and the city.  Selling would be easy and with the appreciation in values for a much-sought-after condo in a nice neighborhood, we’d clear a lot.  She told me she’d circle back.  Guess she’s still orbiting.

Wouldn’t it be better for everyone if our policy was more targeted instead of a blanket that solves an issue for some and creates burdens for others?  We’ve never had a complaint from a tenant.  We’ve never had a complaint from a neighbor in the condo building.  Our condo is something we might want to keep and use ourselves in the future, why would we let it deteriorate?

In a state (and a city) where the discussion lately turns evermore toward affordable housing and helping families make ends meet, the way Denver (and our state frankly–I’ve testified on some bills that have the same sort of disparate burden on small landlords like me) is handling things will only make that problem worse. Get the price of poker high enough and I’m cashing out.

Cory Gaines lives in Sterling on Colorado’s Eastern Plains and writes at the Colorado Accountability Project substack.

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