Proposal put forward to bring unpermitted buildings in Denver up to code

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DENVER — Denver Community Planning and Development and the Denver Fire Department have proposed a program designed to incentivize the owners and tenants of unpermitted spaces to make their buildings safe.

The program would make 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.

The program would offer three benefits to users: Allow people to remain in place, offer an extended deadline for compliance, and encourages collaboration for creative and potentially cheaper solutions.

“As property values rise, displacement is a very real concern, for the arts community and for other vulnerable groups in Denver,” said Brad Buchanan, executive director of Denver Community Planning and Development.

“This program will make it safer, easier and less expensive for people to live and work in the neighborhoods they helped build.”

For two years from the bill’s effective date, the owner or tenant of an existing unpermitted space can come forward to apply for the program.

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 the space is up to code.

This would involve the applicant hiring an architect or other licensed professional. While work is ongoing, inspections will be scheduled to assess progress.

Denver Community Planning and Development and the Denver Fire Department said the city’s high-priced real estate has driven local artists and others to find affordable, functional space in older buildings.

In some cases, as part of repurposing the buildings, work has been completed without permits and is not up to the standards of international building and fire codes, putting occupants and the public at risk of fire and other hazards.

The proposal will be reviewed by the Denver City Council at a committee meeting on June 28.