Westminster Gives Initial Nod to Landlord Voter-Registration Law

April 29, 2014

DENVER — The Westminster City Council gave preliminary approval Monday to a hotly contested ordinance requiring landlords to hand out voter-registration information to new renters or face fines of up to $1,000.

The 5-2 vote, coming after about two hours of public comment on the issue, occurred on the first reading of Councillor Bill 12. Mayor Herb Atchison said a final vote would probably be held at the June 9 council meeting.

The proposal drew strong objections from business representatives, who said the measure would increase the already heavy regulatory burden on property managers, as well as support from residents who said everything possible should be done to boost voter participation.

Those in favor of the measure repeatedly described the proposed requirement as no big deal.

“It’s so simple, it’s so easy, and the parade of horribles about, ‘Oh, $1,000 fine,’ there’s not going to be a fine if you just comply with the law,” said Ellen Buckley of Westminster. “All complying with the law would require is a piece of paper handed to a renter. It’s not an undue burden to put on landlords.”

Alex Villagrande of Westminster said the proposed ordinance was “not a great burden,” and implied that apartment owners need to do something besides collect rent checks.

“In other words, I’m trying to tell these property owners that instead of just reaping the benefits of the money, to double your efforts, to make this happen,” said Villagrande.

But Stephanie Avery, chair-elect of the Apartment Association of Metro Denver’s joint legislative advisory council, said the council is discouraging the industry with its recent regulatory push and lack of consultation with owners and managers.

“A few years ago, the Westminster City Council pushed through a rental-inspection ordinance with heavy inspection and business licensing fees,” said Avery. “Apartment industry only learned of the issue three days prior to the first reading.”

“Since then, we have seen multi-family grow quickly in all parts of the metro area except Westminster,” said Avery.

Kimberly Bowles, who manages a 280-family complex in Westminster, said she supports encouraging voter participation, but that the proposal’s backers are unaware of the paperwork and coordination involved in running an apartment building.

“It’s a lot to manage, it’s a lot to govern when you have turnover constantly. Every month people are moving out, every month people are moving in,” said Bowles. “I don’t feel that it’s the responsibility of a property manager or my staff to provide voter registration to my residents.”

She said she’s already struggling with the council’s rental-inspection ordinance.

“People talk about that it’s not going to impact a property, but if I’m not in compliance, I’m going to be paying $1,000,” said Bowles. “I’m already paying you over $11,000 every other year for city inspections on my property before you set foot on my property.”

Terry Simone, president of the Colorado Apartment Association, said the industry accounts for 470,000 jobs and contributes $20 billion to the state’s economy.

“Multi-family is a business. Any increased regulations on business makes it harder to operate,” said Simone.

Several speakers asked why the rental industry was being singled out. Elena Nunez, executive director of Colorado Common Cause, cited recent statistics showing that renters were less likely to register to vote or participate in elections than homeowners.

Councillor Bruce Baker, who voted against the measure, said that while encouraging voter registration is laudable, the council was in effect dropping a core function of government as well as an unfunded mandate onto the rental industry.

“It is our duty,” said Baker. “Perhaps because this is such a worthy cause, because it’s so convenient, because it’s such an easy idea, because it’s so minimal a task, because it’s so tiny a burden, we’ve overlooked that it’s our task, and instead of doing it, we’re pushing it onto someone else.”

Councillor Faith Winter, who voted in favor of the ordinance, said that those moving into apartments are often too preoccupied with the task at hand to change the address on their voter registration.

“Voting is a fundamental part of our democracy, and increasing access to all those eligible to vote I believe is part of making our community vibrant, inclusive and welcoming to all those who choose to live here,” said Winter.

Comments made by visitors are not representative of The Colorado Observer staff.

11 Responses to Westminster Gives Initial Nod to Landlord Voter-Registration Law

  1. PeterP
    April 29, 2014 at 6:15 pm

    Westminster has absolutely no business forcing property managers and owners to recruit democrat voters. We all know that it is the responsibility and privilege of each individual citizen to partake in our republic and not a landlord’s responsibility. If the Democratic Party paid property owners to recruit votes at $1000.00 each, people would be hauled off to prison.
    Democrats come up with these plans because they understand that they own the ignorant, ill informed, why am I so poor stoner voter. Yes they also own the over educated liberal voter who despises big business while living off its fat, despises big oil while vacationing in Winter Wonderlands, cozy in their warm and bright second homes. Bottom line is that none of these people know how things work and resent successful people that keep the lights on.
    Here are some more future suggestions that apartment managers should include on their sheet to new tenants:
    Wash your hands after flushing.
    Please remember to flush.
    Your are a democrat now, so don’t think, just vote for more free stuff.

    • RonB
      May 1, 2014 at 1:55 pm

      It’s an interestingly twisted mind that presumes that somehow this proposed code would recruit primarily “Democratic voters” and somehow run Republicans out of office.

      I guess it just wouldn’t occur to someone like Peter that since the recession that people for any and all party affiliations or with no political leanings at all have ended up in foreclosure and at least for the time being have become renters. Nor would it occur to him that Republicans Democrats and those unaffiliated with any party come here from all four corners of the state, country and even the world to take up new jobs or to relocate for their current employer and until they become familiar with the area and decide to buy they are inclined to rent before committing to a mortgage. Then there is the simple fact that many renters are a bit skittish about the real estate market after the recent crash and are waiting to see more stability before considering buying. And then there is the simple fact of life that everyday people from every walk of life are reaching the point where they are ready to leave the nest but are a far cry from being ready to buy their first home.

      Something I’m sure most all of have experienced either while moving into our first home or apartment or leased condo or town home is that one of the last things on our minds is ‘Gee, I just moved, I better get my voter registration information updated’.

      This measure that has been proposed by the Westminster City Council and which passed 5-2 on its first reading serves to make new residents welcomed to the community as active citizens and to remind them about the civic duty that is at the very foundation of a well functioning democracy

      But no, in Peter’s world ‘If you rent, then you must be a Democrat’ and therefore what is actually a genuine bipartisan effort by Republicans and Democrats to engage those who rent and lease to actively participate as part of the community, is instead a nefarious left wing plot.

      • Michael G.
        May 1, 2014 at 3:45 pm

        Ron – A couple ideas that may not have occurred to you: statistical evidence indicates that lower income individuals tend to vote at much lower rates, and that this same socioeconomic class tends to vote Democrat. The hypothetical individuals you cite may be lower income in the instant, but would still have backgrounds that would indicate a higher likelihood of voter participation in the first place. Therefore, the people that would most benefit from such an ordinance would be low-income individuals who had not previously taken the initiative to register to vote, while the people you’ve invented for the sake of your argument would be more likely to have previously registered. Of course, individual cases may diverge from statistical trends, but that’s the nature of statistics. Whether naivety will allow you to believe it or not, the majority of voters who would register as a result of this ordinance would be more likely to be Democrats than Republicans. Although this is not the primary aspect of the ordinance that bothers me, I am positives that the drafters are well aware of these facts.

        Of course, I live in a world where facts are facts. You apparently live in a world where conjecture, hypotheticals, and anecdotes are facts, which may explain our differing views on the issue. If may also explain why you would say that the city council bucking their civic duties by making already overworked property managers do their job for them “serves to make new residents welcomed to the community as active citizens and to remind them about the civic duty that is at the very foundation of a well functioning democracy.” You may think of landlords as big pocket capitalists sitting back and collecting checks, but I work in the industry (and I’m also a renter who is NOT a Democrat ) and I assure you that onsite property managers, who would be the ones doing the City’s job if this passes, are working class people who already have more than enough on their plates running their properties for middle class wages, without also having to worry about new regulations that have nothing to do with their jobs.

      • Brian McFarlane
        May 1, 2014 at 5:48 pm

        Ron, you say “bi-partisan” effort? Not sure how you mean that? The city council election is “without regard” to political affiliation. Still it is clear that Winter, Garcia and Pinter are progressives. It is hard to say which way Seitz leans. I do know that Baker voted against the bill but I can’t find who the other member was, I suspect Mayor Atchison. Baker seems to be leaning to the right. Briggs seems to be “moderate”.
        Maybe you know more about the politics of the city council?
        Maybe 1 member voted for it that is not … liberal? That does not constitute “bi-partisan”.

        Gee, if it is not important for them to register(for whatever reason), even though the Dems in Colorado have made it very easy. Maybe they ought to wait until it IS important to them.

        There is that little issue of Mrs. Winter (liberal progressive) running for the state legislature HD 35… and she just happens to be the champion of this bill.

      • Bernie Roland
        May 1, 2014 at 7:55 pm

        Although Peter’s comments are inflammatory and politically bias the point remains that it is government’s responsibility to promote registration, if the council deems it necessary. If the Westminster council wants to “welcome” new residents, they should pay the cost of whatever welcome they deem appropriate.

  2. Vail Colo
    April 29, 2014 at 9:50 pm

    It is not the obligation of a private business manager to perform a government function like voter registration. Anyone who has a desire to exercise their right to vote can figure out how to do it. The political parties will contact the new tenants.

  3. Ross M Talbott
    April 30, 2014 at 11:26 am

    Forcing private business owners to become substitute government agents is wrong. It violates the public – private boundaries. What other government functions will be next? Child welfare checks, sobriety checkpoints, Putting private citizens and private businesses in jeopardy for the execution of government functions is ethically wrong. Not only wrong but as this path is followed it will backfire against the very people it purports to benefit.

  4. Brian McFarlane
    April 30, 2014 at 2:50 pm

    “recent statistics showing that renters were less likely to register to vote or participate in elections than homeowners.”
    If they’re not interested in voting, so be it. Not interested means not informed. Do these council members really believe that there is not cost to the this law? Do they really think that the cost will be absorbed by the apartment owners? The cost of doing business will need to be recouped in the price of the product that the consumer pays.

  5. Bernie Roland
    May 1, 2014 at 7:49 pm

    It is inappropriate for private enterprise to be recruited to do the job of government. If Apartment owners are required to reming their tenants to vote who will remind the home owner? What if the Apartment owner has a bias towards one candidate or another, one political party or another? Does the Apartment Owner have a right of free speech or is it now a conflict of interest? Wouldn’t the motor vehicle division have a longer and broader reach to licensed drivers. Wouldn’t the motor vehicle division be more appropriate point of contact for promoting voter registration?


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