Mar 162003
Authors: Felix Lee Director of Building, Zoning

Existing rentals that were never approved under Fort Collins regulations are not legally “grandfathered” as nonconforming units. Such housing or lodging units are considered illegal unless they meet all current city building and zoning codes.

Any illegal housing unit located in a Zone District that does not permit the unit is subject to the City ordering discontinuing its use.

In addition to building codes in effect in Fort Collins since the early 1920s, the city has had a comprehensive rental housing code in place since March of 1982. It regulates virtually all rented housing or lodging in the city regardless of when the housing or lodging unit was constructed or created. The “Non-owner-occupied housing standards ordinance,” or Fort Collins Rental Housing Code, is intended to provide occupants of all rented dwellings or lodging (houses, mobile homes, townhouses, condominiums, apartments, hotels, fraternity and sorority houses, boarding houses, etc.) with the following basic standards:

* Shelter from the weather.

* Light and ventilation in all habitable rooms by natural or artificial means.

* Permanent comfort heating facilities capable of maintaining indoor temperature at 60 degrees Fahrenheit.

* Sanitation in the form of hot and cold running water, a bathroom; and in dwelling units, a kitchen with a sink.

* An exit directly to the outside or through an intervening public corridor to an exterior exit.

* Safely maintained electrical, plumbing, heating, and structural systems that comply with the code in effect at the time of their installation or construction.

A November 1945 amendment to the city’s building code specifically addressed basement apartments for the first time by mandating that any habitable room in a new basement apartment created thereafter was required to have a window(s) with the glass area equal to no less than 10 percent of the floor area and the area that could be opened no less than 4 percent of the floor area.

Additionally, every basement apartment was required to have a dedicated exit stairway that goes directly outside.

Since October 1958, bedrooms on the third story and below in any housing or lodging, regardless of owner- or renter-occupied, must be provided with an emergency exit window or door. Depending when a particular bedroom was created, the minimum emergency exit opening area varies slightly around five square feet.

Likewise, the maximum height of the emergency exit above the floor is either 48 inches or 44 inches; and the minimum clear exit dimension is 20 or 24 inches.

The exception is that in any bedroom created before the 1945 amendment, the 1982 rental code allows a bedroom emergency exit with a minimum area that can be opened dimension of 18 inches and no more than 60 inches above the floor. In all cases, the emergency window or door must open directly to the outside without special tools or knowledge.

Miscellaneous items like, electrical and heating equipment, plumbing, fire sprinklers, structural members, foundations, floors, walls, roofs, masonry fireplaces and chimneys must be maintained in safe condition and according to the code in effect at the time of their installation or construction. An important specific requirement is that central forced-air heating systems may not discharge air from one housing unit to another because of the potential to spread airborne contaminants and diseases.

The Rental Housing Code was implemented as a complaint-based compliance process. Typically, a tenant or owner must allow entry and accompany the inspector. City inspectors are authorized to inspect rental units at reasonable times when there is cause to believe unsafe conditions are present.

For the City to initiate corrective action, condition(s) must exist “to an extent that endangers the life, limb, health, property, safety, or welfare of the public or the occupants.” Depending on the conditions found, the city could allow several weeks for corrections or immediately declare a unit unsafe for occupancy.

Once the property owner is notified, the needed corrections must be started within the time specified or a written appeal must be filed. Otherwise, the unit may be ordered vacated and the property owner is subject to a court summons for not complying.

The Rental Housing Code addresses only occupant and public health, safety, and welfare. The City cannot become involved with rental agreements in any way. Compliance efforts do not relieve tenants of the obligations under their rental contracts.

On a final note, if an individual rental dwelling unit is occupied by more than three persons and all of them are not related to each other, such occupancy is a zoning violation in most cases.

The only exception is an owner-occupied dwelling, in which case the owner can rent rooms to two people. The owner-occupant is first required to obtain a Fort Collins “Home Occupation License” from the City Building & Zoning Department. The license is valid for two years and costs $10. One off-street parking space per renter is required and rental bedrooms must have an approved emergency escape window.

For more information, contact the Building & Zoning Department at 970-416-2618; 281 N. College Ave.; The complete rental ordinance is available at: – click on “Municipal Code” and go to Chapter 5, Article VI.

 Posted by at 6:00 pm

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