Denver working to update group living laws

Change in the city code would allow more unrelated people to live together

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As the population of the city continues to grow, city staff are hoping that an update to the group living rules of the city code will allow for more people to live together and will help create more affordable housing opportunities.

The way city law stands right now, only two unrelated people are allowed to live together in Denver. Residents and staff alike agree that the rule is outdated, and Andrew Webb, a senior city planner, said that many don’t follow the rules to begin with.

“It’s the most limited code that we’ve been able to find in Western cities,” he said. “By updating the household definition, that will allow some of the things that we know already exist out there.”

The city has put together a committee made up of residents, city councilmembers and other stakeholders to help come up with a new definition, as well as some rules around other group living situations such as senior housing, artist lofts and medical living such as rehabilitation facilities.

The city first held public outreach meetings about the current law and what changes could be made in 2018. The committee has since been working on changes to the code. One idea that has been proposed is to raise the number of people who can live together to eight.

Marty Jones, an Uptown resident, said he feels the city has been working behind closed doors when putting together a new proposal for group living. Eight, he said is too high. He worries about the implications the new number will have on the cost of housing. The process, he said, has been “rushed and short-sighted.”

When Denver began planning new laws for short-term rentals such as Airbnb, Jones said the city held dozens of outreach meetings and really worked to get public input. He said the city should be following that same process for the new laws around group living.

There’s been “none of that careful planning, outreach and thought,” he said. “We need to come up with a better system.”

City staff argue that with the short-term rental rules, there was not language in the code to start from. Public outreach was crucial in that sense because the city didn’t have a starting point and needed to create a definition, Webb said. With group living, it’s more about updating the laws to help remove barriers for people looking for housing.

The city will begin finalizing its proposal this month. In February, they will do public outreach on the proposal with open house meetings, Webb said.

Councilmember Robin Kniech, who is on the committee, said that they are hoping to get as much consensus around the laws as they can. One of the difficulties that they have come across is people concerned about how having that many people allowed in an apartment will impact fire code laws and trash. Group living, she said, strictly deals with zoning. Other laws and enforcement will handle some of those other issues, she said.

“You can’t solve all human behaviors in a zoning code,” Kniech said.

For her, this issue is about having solutions for situations that are already happening in the city. Having appropriate language in the city code will give staff a way to intentionally handle group living in Denver.

“We have people living in these situations today,” she said, adding “either way, they’re coming home.”

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