Denver City Council Approves Long-Discussed Safe Occupancy Program

At their July 17 meeting, Denver City Council members voted unanimously to approve the Safe Occupancy Program, a conditional building occupancy program for unpermitted spaces designed to ensure safety while also limiting displacement; it will be overseen by Denver Community Planning and Development (CPD) and the Denver Fire Department.

In the wake of the Ghost Ship fire in Oakland and the subsequent shuttering of Rhinoceropolis and Glob here in Denver, various city agencies, developers, activists and artists were in discussion for months on what such a program might look like. The initial proposal was presented at the July 10 council meeting; in response to concerns during public testimony, the program was amended to extend deadlines and clarify which spaces are eligible.

The program is voluntary, intended to incentivize the owners and tenants of unpermitted spaces to come forward and work with the city to make their buildings safe, according to the CPD. It makes Denver the first city in the country with a law explicitly granting legal occupancy of unpermitted spaces while a building is being brought up to code voluntarily.

While the program was designed with creative spaces in mind, it can also be used by tenants and owners of other existing buildings who come forward about unpermitted spaces. Here's how it works, according to the CPD:

For 30 months from the bill’s effective date, the owner or tenant of an existing unpermitted space may come forward to apply for the program. Any buildings vacated since December 2016 are also eligible, as are any buildings inspected in response to complaints/tips for the next six months.

City code officials would inspect the space to assess its safety, but would not require the owner to correct violations right away unless there is a serious life-safety concern.

The owner or tenant will work with city code officials to create a plan and set extended timelines for making sure their space is up to code. This would involve the applicant hiring an architect or other licensed professional.

During this process, an owner or tenant may apply for a conditional certificate of occupancy to continue to use the building. City officials will grant this allowance after verifying that no serious life safety hazards exist and a plan to bring the building up to code is in place.

While work is ongoing, inspections will be scheduled to assess progress.

The program starts July 21 and runs through January 2020; one of the amendments calls for council to do a sunset review before it ends. Learn more at denvergov.org/safeoccupancy.

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