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Tooth and Nail

City eyes stricter housing codes


A condemned house at 810 N. Weber Street - SHERRI VANENGELEN
  • Sherri VanEngelen
  • A condemned house at 810 N. Weber Street

In the wake of reports that "slumlords" are running rampant in Colorado Springs, the city is moving to tighten its housing codes. However, a local advocacy group says the changes could hurt, rather than help, many local renters.

A task force charged with recommending changes to the housing codes -- including city officials, Board of Realtors members and a representative from the Apartment Association of Colorado Springs -- concluded its work earlier this month and has turned in its recommendations. Among its proposals are increased fines for repeat housing-code offenders, a mandate to install smoke detectors in all rental units, a requirement that repairs be done in a "workmanlike" manner, and enhanced powers for city officials to condemn unfit housing units.

Karon DiPentino, the city's code enforcement administrator, said the task force was formed in response to a series of reports by local television station KKTV/Channel 11, titled the "Landlord's Hall of Shame," which exposes the substandard conditions endured by many tenants.

The Apartment Association, representing some 300 local landlords, took part in the effort because it recognizes there are a "handful" of bad landlords in the community, said Laura Russmann, the group's government affairs director.

But the Housing Advocacy Coalition, a group that lobbies for affordable housing and tenants' rights, opposes the changes. The coalition was part of the task force but pulled out in protest because it disagreed with the proposed enhancement of the city's condemnation powers.

Coalition activist Cyndy Kulp said increased condemnations will put more poor tenants out on the street, rather than making sure their homes are repaired. And facing the risk of becoming homeless, tenants will be more reluctant than ever to report problems, Kulp fears.

The city provides some relocation assistance to renters whose homes are condemned, but it's not enough, and it's hard for tenants with limited means to find a new place, she says.

"There's nowhere to go, because there's a lack of affordable housing," Kulp said.

It's a concern that's "difficult to get around," acknowledged DiPentino. However, "Just because someone is low-income doesn't mean they should be forced to live in substandard housing," she said.

Kulp said she would prefer to see even tougher financial penalties for landlords who violate housing codes. Russmann, meanwhile, said the changes will "put some teeth" into the codes.

The City Council is expected to consider the recommended changes sometime in the next few months.

-- Terje Langeland

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