Government & Politics  May 15, 2024

With new state law abolishing ‘U+2’ occupancy rules, Fort Collins to vote on changes

FORT COLLINS — Fort Collins City Council members on June 4 will consider an ordinance that would revise the city’s residential occupancy rules to conform with new state regulations that will prohibit the city’s long-standing “U+2” housing policy.

Gov. Jared Polis in April signed House Bill 24-1107, which was billed by its sponsors as an effort to increase more affordable-housing options by encouraging more-dense living arrangements, as well as removing what they saw as discriminatory language in local ordinances that based occupancy limits on whether there is a family relationship. The new law does permit local governments to impose occupancy limits, but only if they are based on established health and safety standards or guidelines in affordable-housing programs.

The city’s representatives in the state Legislature, all Democrats, were split on the bill, with Reps. Andrew Boesenecker and Cathy Kipp supportive of it, while Sen. Joann Ginal opposed it.

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The state law, which will take effect July 1, outlaws such policies as the one in Fort Collins, which says that no more than three unrelated persons can live together in any residence.

During a staff presentation on Tuesday night as part of a City Council work session, Sylvia Tatman-Burruss, Fort Collins’ senior project and policy manager, recommended that after the first reading of the ordinance on June 4, it should be sent to the Planning and Zoning Commission for its recommendation at its scheduled June 20 meeting before heading back to the council for second and final reading on July 2.

The city began active enforcement of its U+2 ordinance in 2005, requiring that residential dwellings in Fort Collins could only house either a family of any size plus one additional unrelated occupant, or no more than three unrelated occupants.

Anticipating passage of the state law during a March 26 work session, council members looked at potential options for compliance, including how to rely on health and safety regulations, as well as how to enforce existing ordinances, codes and policies for addressing property
maintenance and nuisance issues. They also acknowledged the challenge in enforcement presented by using square footage per person or occupancy language in the International Building Code or International Property Maintenance Code to regulate residential occupancy.

The new state law limits regulation of occupancy to rules based “only on demonstrated health and safety standards, such as International Building Code standards, fire code regulations, or Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment Wastewater and Water Quality standards.”

Tatman-Burruss said ordinances that the council will consider in June would change the city’s current occupancy rules in both its land use code and municipal code. Amendments would include replacing the word “family” with the word “unit” throughout the document, as well as removing references to “extra occupancy” and group homes.

City staff members already have begun auditing the city’s website, fcgov.com, to remove references to occupancy and will add updated language and answers to frequently asked questions. Outreach to the public is to include news releases, posts on social media and other city communications.

The report the staff submitted to council members on Tuesday said the city would continue its commitment to neighborhood quality through enforcement of property-maintenance codes and nuisance ordinances.

“If there is a desire to develop occupancy criteria based on square footage or occupancy loads as defined in the International Property Maintenance Code or International Building Code, staff can work on recommendations,” the report said. “The operationalizing of either of these will require entry into a home. If voluntary entry is not provided a search warrant from the judge based on probable cause would be required.”

Fort Collins may prohibit the city’s long-standing “U+2” housing policy.

Dallas Heltzell
With BizWest since 2012 and in Colorado since 1979, Dallas worked at the Longmont Times-Call, Colorado Springs Gazette, Denver Post and Public News Service. A Missouri native and Mizzou School of Journalism grad, Dallas started as a sports writer and outdoor columnist at the St. Charles (Mo.) Banner-News, then went to the St. Louis Post-Dispatch before fleeing the heat and humidity for the Rockies. He especially loves covering our mountain communities.
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