BARHA Question 1: Occupancy - Boulder Area Rental Housing Association

BARHA Question 1: Many candidates have expressed desire to increase the amount of affordable housing in Boulder.   What is your opinion on allowing more occupancy of unrelated persons as a tool to reach that goal?

Aaron Brockett: I don’t believe we should repeal occupancy limits entirely, but I would like to remove dependents from the occupancy count. Currently, if you have a blended family of two unmarried individuals each with two children, it violates the occupancy limits. I think the limits would be more fair if dependents were never counted towards the occupancy limit. This would allow for the flexibility for different family types to live together in a house.

Mark McIntyre: I support ending Boulder’s Three Unrelated Persons Ordinance​ while simultaneously stepping up code enforcement.  I think it is wrong to criminalize well behaved people who are good neighbors from sharing a home. Here is a theoretical example: Couple A – a postal worker and a grad student, Couple B – a teacher and a police officer, share a three bedroom house and share a total of two cars. This living situation is illegal in most of Boulder.  That is wrong.

In my 42 years living in Boulder I have lived illegally in an over-occupied home. While doing so, we never encountered a problem with any of my neighbors. Later, living in a large expensive home in a mostly non-rental neighborhood, my children, while we were away, created problems more than once for our neighbors with parties and noise.  At times we had four cars in a four-person household.    I also believe that vigorous code enforcement and parking enforcement is part of having a healthy community.  (Parking reform and enforcement are another topic that I would like to address on council.) Renters and landlords need to be good neighbors and held accountable for property maintenance and code/parking violations.

I would ask if the BARHA members are willing to discuss trade-offs for changes to the current regulation. These trade-offs could include restrictions on the number of cars associated with a dwelling, requirement of car-share opportunities, Ecopass purchases for occupants, stepped up code enforcement of current regulations or other things your members could offer to help make these adjustments.

Rachel Friend: I support removing our anachronistic unrelated-persons occupancy limits, to reach our affordable housing, as well as additional social justice goals.  I understand that there is some trepidation about change in general, and housing / neighborhoods in particular; so if/when we make this change, I support robust community engagement around the change.  That will enable us to identify, and address, underlying concerns. I do not believe most Boulderites fear the notion of a few unrelated people cohabitating; rather, we have concerns with things like noise or parking issues – and we can address those.

Bob Yates: By liberalizing our co-op rules in 2017 and our accessory dwelling unit (ADU) rules in 2018, city council allowed greater occupancy of unrelated persons in rental properties, while respecting the rights of neighbors. We will re-visit the ADU rules in 2020 to determine whether further changes are appropriate, based on two years of experience.

Junie Joseph: Boulder limits occupancy to 3 or 4 unrelated persons per unit, based on zoning. I find this rule burdensome both in its restrictions on how people are allowed to live and is implications for defining who constitutes a family. But I would also like us to consider other approaches. We should consider the current separation rule on co-ops that says they need to be at least 500 ft apart. Additionally, we should reconsider our current ADU policies and make it easier to divide existing houses into multiple smaller units.

Benita Duran: Boulder city government, landlords and tenants all have reason to seek reasonable limits on the number of people that live in a housing unit. Occupancy policies, when reasonably implemented can benefit living conditions and protect tenant rights. However, overly restrictive occupancy requirements may violate tenants’ rights. In an expensive and competitive rental market like Boulder, tenants can increase affordable housing options when they are allowed to make their own decisions about how many people, they share their living space with. Additionally, unreasonable or unequally applied occupancy limits can have discriminatory effects on families with children, and on elders on fixed incomes.

Paul Cure: As is the case with most surveys, the question proposes a yes or no response for a complicated issue that requires a case by case analysis.  I do not support the amendment to adjust unrelated tenants as a cure all to density issues.

Mark Wallach: To me, changing occupancy limits is not the appropriate tool to provide more affordable housing in Boulder, particularly because it doesn’t address the needs of working families who work here, but cannot afford to live here. The impact of changing occupancy limits would be to create a great deal of stress in most of our neighborhoods without addressing our core need to house in-commuting families.

Corina Julca: The rental housing problem in Boulder has two main aspects: lack of availability and lack of affordability. In theory, it makes sense to raise the occupancy limit, as this potentially addresses both problems, increasing the number of available rooms in Boulder and making it likely that individual tenants will pay lower rent (though this is not guaranteed) while the landlord enjoys a higher overall return.

I think that, in principle, occupancy should be based on the number of legal bedrooms and bathrooms in a house. However, we all know that a large percentage of tenants, including students, own cars. Parking is probably the greatest source of friction around occupancy. Therefore, a new approach to parking would be required in neighborhoods, and this would likely prove unpopular. This is not an easy nut to crack.

One approach would be to try to find a neighborhood that wants to work in this direction, as a model for inclusivity and environmentally friendly policies to see how this plays out in practice, including whether rents do indeed become more affordable in this neighborhood as a result of higher occupancy. Another possible approach would be to grant higher occupancy limits to landlords who commit to rent restrictions. Finally, I’ll point out that today many rentals exceed the occupancy limits, so in some ways it’s a question of legally recognizing an existing situation.

Brian Dolan: I think that we should look at all of the ways we can help with affordability in our city, but I am not sure that higher occupancy is the right tactic.  Homes, neighborhoods, and our overall city have carrying capacity limits.  If you allow higher occupancy, they have the potential to be overwhelmed.  For example, a 3-bedroom home is designed to handle 3-4 people, and if we allow even a few more residents to live there systems such as sewage and water can easily be overloaded and stop working.

Andy Celani: The city rules to control occupancy should be maintained.

Gala Orba: I am open to opening up occupancy to 4 unrelated persons in some neighborhoods, yes. And with that, I would like us to make rules around parking and noise.

 Nikki McCord: I am in favor of more occupancy of unrelated persons to meet our affordable housing goals. When the co-op ordinance was being negotiated, I represented Voices for Invisible Populations (VIPs). I worked with this group to protect their interests, ensuring that the co-op ordinance was not written in a way that would negatively impact seniors and people with disabilities. As a city councilperson, I would be interested in piloting more occupancy with these populations as a first step to learn from the experience before rolling out to other populations.

 Susan Peterson: I think we should take a look at relating the number of unrelated persons who can occupy a single residence to the size and number of bedrooms and baths in an occupancy, in addition to the maximum occupancy dictated by zoning currently in effect.

Adam Swetlik: I could be open to this if there is  a  permanent  affordability  component  involved.  Right now occupancy limits are already difficult to enforce,  so  until  that  issue  is  addressed  I  think  it’s  right  to  keep  them  as  is.  If members  of  the  city are  interested  increasing  occupancy  limits  we  have  a  great  ballot  initiative  process  that  could  address  it.