“Bedrooms Are For People,” say Boulder housing activists working to reimagine occupancy limits
By Lucy Haggard. Originally published in The Colorado Sun on May 27, 2021.
"The proposed ballot measure would set the number of people allowed to live in a residence based on the number of bedrooms plus one.
Changing a rule that limits the number of people who can share a home could help ease Boulder’s housing crisis, according to advocates for a ballot initiative set to appear on the local ballot in November.
The citizen-led Bedrooms Are For People campaign has been working since last year on a measure to redefine the city’s occupancy limit based on the number of rooms in a residence.
Cities and towns generally get to set their own occupancy limits, though there are certain regulations that apply everywhere. The federal Fair Housing Act and its subsequent amendments prohibit housing discrimination, including based on familial status, so housing occupancy limits don’t apply when all of the tenants are related.
Many Front Range municipalities, including Boulder, have absolute occupancy limits, meaning that the number of bedrooms in a house or apartment does not affect how many people can live there. It’s often a matter of zoning. For example, Boulder’s code currently includes slight variations in its occupancy limit based on density. Low- and medium-density zones have a three-person limit, while properties zoned as high density (think large apartment complexes) have a maximum occupancy of four people.
Bedrooms Are For People is asking Boulder to rethink the absolute occupancy limit entirely. Rather than determining a unit’s number of residents based on zoning, each individual unit would be allowed to have as many people as there are bedrooms, plus one more. For example, a three-bedroom house would have a maximum occupancy of four unrelated people.
There aren’t official statistics on how many people are violating the current three-person limit in Boulder, though the Bedrooms Are For People organizers say they currently estimate thousands of people live in over-occupied dwellings, based on the number of people who have shared their own stories and participated in the campaign.
When Boulder City Council sought to increase enforcement in 2015, many of the 83 people who spoke at a council meeting addressing the matter were opposed to more enforcement because they were personally living over-occupied.
The council could change the occupancy limits, though that appears unlikely...
...But Bedrooms Are For People advocates have persisted. When the council rejected the question from the 2020 ballot after city staff gave incorrect guidance on filing deadlines, advocates immediately pivoted to the 2021 election. Earlier this month the campaign gathered enough signatures to qualify the measure for this year’s municipal ballot. Some signatures still must be verified, and more will come in before the June 4 filing deadline, but many have been automatically verified through the city’s new digital petitioning system."