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.