Threatened with the loss of rental licenses, some Boulder, Colorado landlords have been compelled to educate their tenants on social distancing guidelines. The city, home to the University of Colorado — and infamous parties — says pressuring landlords may be the only way to stop a spike in COVID-19 that is scaring residents and hampering the city’s reopening plans.
Three weeks ago, Boulder boasted the second lowest COVID-19 numbers in the state. Now, it’s in the top three. That, after a spate of parties and protests on University Hill drove infections to a record high.
The spike is centered on twenty-somethings who remained in town despite the university temporary shutting down. In one case, it is estimated 150 people attended a party with little or no social distancing, in violation of both the state’s and the city’s social distancing mandates, referred to in Colorado as “Safer at Home and in the Vast, Great Outdoors.”
As a result of the rise in infections, Boulder was forced to delay its reopening phases, which places more strain on already struggling businesses. In response, the city is going after the owners of the properties where these unauthorized events are taking place to force landlords to rein in their tenants.
The properties currently targeted all have been subject to numerous police calls or noise complaints. “They are the most egregious, where we’ve been out multiple times, where the behavior is just deplorable,” said Boulder’s communication manager Shannon Aulabaugh.
In an emergency move, the city amended its nuisance property ordinance to include large gatherings that could increase transmission of COVID-19. If landlord fail to stop the gatherings, they stand to lose their rental license, which will effectively force the tenants out of the properties, something the city hopes it will not need to do.
A spokesperson for the University of Colorado says the school supports this directive and will take steps to hold students accountable for these violations internally through the student code of conduct.
Many cities have nuisance property laws similar to Boulder’s that allow a city to fine landlords or pull licenses for repeated police calls or complaints from neighbors. However, these ordinances tend to be vague and subject to interpretation by local law enforcement.
Cities that have attempted to define nuisance based on quantitative factors like the number of police calls to the property have faced legal consequences, including being forced to pay damages to victims of crime who fear eviction if they call for help.
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