The city’s first push to ask residents to voluntarily register accessory-dwelling units and multi-unit structures with the planning department has sparked many inquiries.
During August and September, the city sent 1,300 letters to property owners in two older Durango neighborhoods where ADUs are permitted. So far, they have received 32 registration forms and 60 phone calls, said Greg Hoch, Durango’s director of planning and community development.
By asking people to register, the city is hoping to create a inventory, not only of all the accessory dwelling units, but also all of the small multi-unit buildings, such as duplexes and triplexes, Hoch said.
“We can only address the problem once we know how big it is,” said Dean Brookie, mayor pro tem, in an interview.
Property owners have until Dec. 31 to voluntarily register ADUs and multi-unit dwellings with the city.
“The city, I believe, is interested in legalizing as many ADUs as possible,” Hoch said.
The next few months are meant to be an amnesty period, Brookie said. The planning department will not make any tenants vacate a unit when they do an initial inspection unless they find a serious safety violation. For example, if a tenant was sleeping in the same room as a water heater with only one exit, they would ask the property owner to find safer, temporary housing for the tenant.
The letter also informed property owners they could have to pay more than $10,000 to legalize a unit.
There is not a deadline for those fees yet, and the city is looking into creating a payment plan for those who voluntarily register their ADU. The city has also not determined how the age of the unit may determine what fees are applicable.
To help expedite the review process, the Durango City Council unanimously approved a resolution Tuesday night that would allow the planning department to give individual property owners variances if their current ADU does not meet current standards.
“The goal here is to regularize existing ADUs with minimum fuss,” said Councilor Dick White in an interview.
The planning department will now be able to grant variances for lot size, unit size, parking requirements, among other factors. Without the resolution property owners would have to go through an extensive public-review process.
Those with multi-unit buildings do not face the same extensive review process, but the city is looking to make sure the units meet safety standards.
In the 1950s, the city did not require a permit to remodel a single house into multiple units, and few inspections were done at the time.
“We really don’t know how safe those are,” Hoch said.
If the city has never inspected the units, they are not liable for any accident that may occur on the property. But if the city is informed of the units and doesn’t inspect them, then they become liable.
The planning department is in the process of creating a separate strategy to address triplexes and similar housing units.
Once the voluntary registration process is complete, the planning department may do a more systematic search for ADUs.
“We’re coming on really hard, but at the same token we’ve got peoples’ lives at stake,” Hoch said.