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Law Offices of Ronald W. Rutz
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September 28, 2002: Enforcing Rental Rules

Q: Why can't Fort Collins enforce its "not more than three unrelated inhabitants" rule like Greeley does?

A: Talk about being placed on a hot seat! This response is only to explain what I, as an individual, found and should not be construed as being either for or against such a provision.

Basically there are three reasons to have such a restriction--on moral grounds, to prevent the spread of blight in a neighborhood and maintain a certain living environment, or to keep the cost of housing down so landlords, in coming up with an offer to buy, will not bid up the price of housing stocks by multiplying the number of people times the number of bedrooms times the rent. Both Fort Collins and Greeley seem to focus on reason number two.

The people in Greeley exude a "can do" attitude, representing that they have investigated every one of the twenty or so concerned inquiries received by the city this year, even if such contacts, for example, came by an anonymous telephone tip.

The people in charge will physically go out and do an "interview" and will follow up on each one at least once. Last year apparently in one incident, the City actually hired a private investigator to gather evidence. Apparently this vigorous approach has resulted in over a 90% voluntary compliance rate, with the remaining 10% of the alleged violators eventually signing consents.

Greeley has not taken anyone to court recently but maintains that the municipal court will back them up. And if the city loses, the personnel assured me that the court system would feel "pressure".

Fort Collins seems to be just the opposite. The people in charge appeared to be very defensive and recite all the reasons why the ordinance will not work and even why the "no more than three" restriction is wrong on moral and constitutional grounds.

The perceived reasons why the ordinance was enacted were brought up and reviewed. Constitutional issues about property rights, invasion of privacy, and the extent of governmental rights to regulate, among others, and the practical problems of gathering the amount and quality of evidence sufficient to go to court to gain a victory, were all mentioned as hurdles that were difficult, if not impossible, to successfully overcome.

In general, Fort Collins will only go out to the premises being identified as a problem if there is a signed complaint. Second follow-up visits may or may not occur depending on what was learned. Only those matters where a "signed" confession can be obtained will be pursued. In fact, no court proceeding will be sought without such a "signed" confession. Otherwise, here in Fort Collins the chances of the city winning in municipal court are perceived to be remote.

And that is the bottom line because apparently, several years ago, Fort Collins lost in our municipal court system and, from a practical point of view and in general, feels judicial enforcement does not justify the time, effort, and money.

But Fort Collins is still concerned about point number two--the quality of life for the neighbors and the appearance of the neighborhood. So symptoms, not the number of people, are now being addressed such as noise, trashy yards, cars parked on lawns, etc.

Greeley also acknowledges that enforcing these kinds of ordinances using the traditional methods may not be enough. It too is moving to enforce these tangential issues and meet another Greeley problem--very large extended families living in one structure.

I know the foregoing is not exactly a legal answer but maybe it will give you a feel for how the web of fact and law seems to be dealt with so differently in one city as opposed to the other. Things are not so simple in the real world.

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