City proposes changes to deal with unresponsive property owners

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Most landlords and property managers don’t have anything to worry about when it comes to the city of Colorado Springs’ proposed housing code changes.

“If a property manager is doing what they are supposed to be doing, they shouldn’t have any issues with them,” said Laura Nelson, executive director for the Apartment Association of Southern Colorado.

“I know none of our members really will be affected by the changes because they don’t let tenant issues get to that point with the city.”

Colorado Springs City Council recently passed the first reading of the Quality Housing Accountability Act, which allows the neighborhood division to enforce changes to city code that aim to make property owners maintain minimum housing standards.

“What we are hoping this act will achieve is compel property owners to more expeditiously resolve tenant complaints, and just as importantly, to also be more proactive in maintaining their properties,” said Peter Wysocki, Colorado Springs director of planning and development.

Under the act, one of the three proposed ordinances would give disgruntled property owners or tenants the ability to appeal to municipal court, making it a judicial matter with associated penalties, rather than administrative penalties, according to a March 27 city news release.

The act also would shift enforcement of the provisions of the housing code from the police department to the neighborhood services administrator.

Additionally, proposed changes would include when and how property owners receive the “repeat offender” designation after failing to address multiple tenant complaints of unsafe or unsanitary living conditions, Wysocki said.

“Right now, repeat offenders are basically those who have unresolved violations, and we are expanding the definition to state that if you have five or more violations filed against the property, the property owner or the property manager within a 12-month period then they become a repeat offender and the city can then issue fines,” he said.

The city began assessing its current housing codes after multiple residents spoke at a city council meeting last year, expressing concerns and dissatisfaction with the unresponsiveness of some landlords.

“We looked at our city codes to see if there could be any enhancements made, and we found this is definitely an amendment to city code that will hopefully make the property owners and landlords be more proactive,” Wysocki said.

While the Apartment Association of Southern Colorado is mostly supportive of the proposed changes, Nelson has asked the city for clarification when the issue at hand is, in fact, caused by the resident.

“There are instances where a resident causes an infestation of bedbugs or cockroaches or what have you, and if that resident doesn’t participate in trying to resolve the matter then that repeat offender designator should not be given to the property manager or property and the fees shouldn’t kick in,” she said.

“So the only addition we asked for is for them to clarify when it’s a resident-caused issue.”

Wysocki, like Nelson, believes the majority of property owners shouldn’t be alarmed by the proposed changes because almost half of the complaints for city code violations in 2017 were against the same eight individuals.

“The vast majority of landlords and property managers remedy any complaints, so it’s not so much an issue of property owners not fixing the problems, but what we are trying to avoid is having the tenants come to us and instead have it resolved with their lease agreement and landlord so as to not use city resources,” he said.

The city only conducts inspections of rental properties after a complaint is received from a tenant, Wysocki said, adding it doesn’t currently have a system to inform the public as to the location of “repeat offender” properties.

“Due to resources, we don’t do city-initiated inspections, and we don’t actively post such information,” he said. “We always encourage any potential tenant that is looking at apartments or houses that they make sure and go and look at the complex and actual unit they are wanting to rent.

“If they call us, we can provide them with that information, but we don’t actively disclose that information in any one location.”

A final vote for the Quality Housing Accountability Act is scheduled for April 10.  If passed by city council, the act goes into effect April 23.

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