Boulder’s Forty Year Quest Towards Rent Control

Let’s look back over the last 40 years and learn how Boulder has tried but failed to institute rent controls, and how it could change soon.

In 1980, the City of Boulder passed a citizen initiative to impose rent control in existing buildings that would have capped and tightly regulated maximum rental rates across the city. In 1981 Colorado enacted C.R.S. 38-12-301 that made rent controls illegal.

In 2000, in Town of Telluride, Colorado v. Lot Thirty-Four
Venture LLC, 3 P.3d 30 (Colo. 2000),
the Colorado supreme court held that
a local land use ordinance enacted by the town of Telluride to promote
affordable housing in new developments violated the state statute.

In 2020 the Bedrooms Are For People (BAFP) initiative process began with the goal of expanding access to housing by allowing more than 3 unrelated people to occupy the same dwelling in the city. Because of duplicity by the city staff, it did not make it onto the ballot until 2021, an off-year election. The initiative was defeated by a 5% margin. The most common criticism of BAFP is that it would cause a free-for-all of investors who will buy up properties and turn them into profitable dormitories for students. Despite occupancy limits, Boulder already has a huge number of rental properties. Until recently it was illegal to institute rent controls.

On February of 2021, Virginia Sargent, clerk of the Colorado Supreme Court published “Let Cities Decide: End Colorado’s Prohibition on Rent Regulation”. This is a deep dive into the issue and required reading for anyone interested in this topic.

On May 28, 2021, HB21-1117 was put into law which allows some exemptions to § 38-12-301. Increasing occupancy is one of 12 acts that can grant an exemption to CRS 38-12-301. if something is done to increase affordable housing.

The following actions to increase the overall number and density of housing units within its jurisdictional boundaries or to promote or create incentives to the construction of affordable housing units:

(A) Changing its zoning regulations to increase the number of housing units allowed on a particular site;
(B) Promoting mixed-use zoning that permits housing units to be incorporated in a wider range of developments;
(C) Permitting more than one dwelling unit per lot in traditional single-family lots;
(D) increasing the permitted household size in single family homes;
(E) Promoting denser housing development near transit stations and places of employment;
(F) Granting reduced parking requirements to residential or mixed-use developments that include housing near transit stations or affordable housing developments;
(G) Granting density bonuses to development projects that incorporate affordable housing units; or
(H) Adopting policies to promote the diversity of the housing stock within the local community including a mix of both for-sale and rental housing opportunities;
(II) materially reduce or eliminate utility charges, regulatory fees, or taxes imposed by the local government applicable to affordable housing units;
(III) grant affordable housing developments material regulatory relief from any type of zoning or other land development regulations that would ordinarily restrict the density of new development or redevelopment;
(IV) adopt policies to materially make surplus property owned by the local government available for the development of housing; or
(V) adopt any other regulatory measure that is expressly designed and intended to increase the supply of housing within the local government’s jurisdictional boundaries.

Unfortunately, the law does not apply to private residential properties. In order to institute rent controls in Boulder, first the state law must change. This can be done by a legislative approach or through a ballot initiative. People of Colorado, I urge you to contact your representatives

In order to institute rent controls in Boulder, first the state law must change. This can be done by a legislative approach or through a ballot initiative. People of Colorado, I urge you to contact your representatives and ask them to Repeal C.R.S. 38-12-301 so local municipalities can decide responsible rent control measures.

Rent control is not necessarily a force for good, it can inhibit the expansion of housing or it can be ruled unconstitutional if it overreaches. The usual method of simply limiting the annual increase of rent does not seen to provide adequate protection to tenants or neighborhoods. The long road to rent control in Boulder Colorado still has a long way to go.

2021-11-07 – This article was updated to reflect the results of the election on November of 2021. The original version posted on 2021-11-02 was focused on Bedrooms Are For People (BAFP) made a mistake of misinterpreting that HB21-1117 applied to residential housing that would be impacted by Bedrooms Are For People. It does not. Per section 2. e.5.: “NOTHING IN THIS SUBSECTION (1)(e.5) IS CONSTRUED TO AUTHORIZE A LOCAL GOVERNMENT TO ADOPT OR ENFORCE ANY ORDINANCE OR REGULATION THAT WOULD HAVE THE EFFECT OF CONTROLLING RENT ON ANY EXISTING PRIVATE RESIDENTIAL HOUSING UNIT IN VIOLATION OF SECTION 38-12-301”.