Breaking Down The Boulder Rental License Requirements

Date Published: June 17, 2019

Boulder’s Rental License program is one of the first of its kind. The program requires Boulder homeowners to pass a general health and safety inspection before being allowed to rent a property in the city.

Because of the university and the subsequent high volume of rental units, the city decided to create a baseline for quality of rental housing to ensure people and students are living in safe and healthy homes. The city has outlined the rental license requirements to abide by.

However, like many government programs, the documentation is robust and there are many different requirements that need to be met. When obtaining a rental license, a 3rd party inspection is required to verify the requirements.  Many of the items are “no-brainers”, but there are some tricky ones that cause many people to fail their initial inspections.

So if you are a Boulder rental property owner or a property manager and would like some clarification, we wrote this for you.

We will break down each category of the rental license handbook, and give you the SparkNotes version. We will also give you some hints as to what our inspectors are looking for.

Of course, you can just have a baseline Rental License Inspection done by one of our licensed inspectors to find any issues. But if you want to be proactive, read on.

CIty of Boulder Rental License Requirements Handbook Logo

The Rental License Requirements Handbook

The Boulder Rental License requirements are laid out in the handbook which can be found here. However, it is slightly complex with many references to building codes. We will break it down here as we understand it.

The two main requirements are the safety inspection and the outdoor lighting requirements. We will be focusing on the safety inspection.

But First… Occupancy Limits and Posting Requirements

The city requires anyone renting out a property to post the number of unrelated individuals allowed to live in a unit inside the doorway. This number can be found on their website here, and searching for your address. Depending on the zone of the city it is between 3 and 4.

This is less of a safety item, and more of a chance for the city to follow up on this law. The specific requirements for what the sign should say are in the handbook and at this website. This section is also touched on in this follow section.

Occupancy Sign example, one of Boulder's Rental License Requirements.

Occupancy sign example from the cities website. One of Boulder’s Rental License Requirements.

1. General Requirements: Light, Ventilation, and Occupancy Limitations

This section is broken down into a few items.

Exterior/Interior Structure: The basis of this section is to ensure the exterior and interior of the home is in livable condition. No leaky roofs, missing siding, broken windows. Anything that could let the outside elements into the home should be properly sealed. Many people fail their baseline inspection due to having a broken or cracked window. That would fall under this section. On the interior, all areas should have handrails and general maintenance should be well kept.

Lighting and Ventilation: Along with a general habitable space, all sections of the home must have some type of lighting. Bedrooms with wall switches that operate outlets are acceptable. However, lights must be present in stairwells and hallways, and generally in places where you would normally find a light.

Ventilation violations primarily pertain to a bedroom with no window in it. Also, bathrooms must have a bath fan or an operable window for adequate ventilation.

Occupancy Limitations: This section outlines what a standard house should have for the number of tenants living in it. Pretty straight forward, but you’d be surprised as to what we sometimes see! Occupancy limits ensure that there are adequate bathrooms, a kitchen, some type of shower or bathtub, and that no one is sleeping in these areas!

The occupancy sign mentioned above is covered in this section as well.

2. Plumbing Facilities and Fixture Requirements

This section is pretty general. Basically, the big picture is NO LEAKS. All plumbing fixtures have to be in working condition and there should be hot water present in all locations you would expect it. No tenant wants to take a cold shower every day, and the city has their backs on that one!

An overlooked requirement in this section is that bathrooms must have privacy! If the door to the bathroom is broken or you can’t lock the door, this would be enough to fail your rental license inspection.

Are you in need of a Boulder rental license inspection? We are the only rental license provider with multiple inspectors. Schedule your inspection as early as tomorrow. Learn more here.

3. Mechanical and Electrical Requirements

This section is long and detailed but we will try to give a big picture overview.

General Mechanical Requirements: The house must have a heat source and water heater that are in a safe and operable condition. They also need to be installed as a professional would install it, meaning the exhaust, gas lines, gas line shut-offs, combustion air inlets, and safety requirements need to be followed. If a professional contractor installed it, you are most likely in good shape.

Water heaters also require TPR valve extensions to be present and installed the way the manufacturer intended it.

One item that people get caught on in this section is when a furnace or water heater is accessed through a bedroom or bathroom. If that is the case, the access door needs to be fully sealed with weather stripping so no exhaust can escape from the closet. Many DIY renovations of basements have issues with this.  

Along with the heating system, all other appliances like kitchen appliances need to be installed safely and correctly.

Electrical: Electrical devices fall under this category as well. This can be summed up fairly easily with 3 requirements.

  1. Make sure all wiring is installed correctly and outlets are everywhere that outlets normally are expected.
  2. No exposed live wires. This includes no missing cover plates.
  3. Make sure you can access the main electric panel and it isn’t blocked or hidden.

If you feel that you meet the requirements of these 3 items, you will likely pass this part of the inspection. We will also be opening the electrical panel during the inspection to ensure the wiring is correct.

One key issue that the city addresses in this area is ungrounded 3-prong outlets. Many homes that have been remodeled that started with 2-prong outlets have now been upgraded to 3. The issue is that even though you add a grounding slot to the outlet, it does not mean it is connected to anything. This presents a few hazards, but it is also very common to see it in homes. The city of Boulder wants to see this addressed by adding GFCI outlets/breakers to protect the ungrounded areas or replacing the outlets that have older 2-prong outlets.

4. Fire Safety Requirements

General Requirements: The basis of fire safety in this section is about egress. You must have the escape paths available that were required when the house was built. This typically refers to basement bedrooms where there is no walk out window. Newer homes will require it, but older homes do not.

You also cannot block an area that was created for escape. For example, you cannot put bars or covers that cannot be easily removed over windows or entryways. Also, you cannot have doors that lock from the inside with a key only. In the event of a fire, if the key can’t be found, the tenant may be trapped.

Firewalls are also inspected. This includes the drywall between the garage and the home or between 2 units. This drywall must stay intact as it gives the tenant time to escape.

Smoke Alarms and CO Detectors: PLEASE PLEASE PLEASE read this section carefully. In 2018, the city of Boulder started requiring inspectors to ensure these devices are present and in the correct locations. Since then, this has been the most frequent reason for rental inspection failure.

Smoke detectors and CO detectors must follow TODAY’s code standards. Unlike most other items, older homes are not grandfathered into the rules. So here is what is needed:

  1. At least one smoke detector ON EVERY FLOOR.
  2. One smoke detector IN EVERY BEDROOM.
  3. CO Detectors should be placed WITHIN 15 FEET of all bedrooms.

Smoke and CO Detector Placement Floor Plan as state in the Boulder Rental License Requirements

The smoke detectors are fairly straightforward, but the CO can be confusing. If all of the bedrooms are right next to each other, you can just have one unit outside the bedrooms. But if there are bedrooms in the basement and the main floor, there will need to be a CO detector outside the basement rooms, and another outside the main floor rooms.

On top of all this, all units have to be in working condition at the time of the inspection. These units can be battery powered or hard wired. Furthermore, smoke and CO detectors have a 10-year expiration. The city has asked us to ensure no detectors are older than 10 years as they would be expired!

It’s important to follow these guidelines, as Boulder requires the inspectors to go back to the property to verify that issues with the detectors have been resolved. This results in another fee from our company. If you have further questions, please give us a call.

BONUS: Floodplain signage

There is one more requirement that deserves its own section. If the building is located within a 100-year floodplain, the city requires you to post a sign outside the front door stating that it is. The sign must read as follows:

“This property is located in an area that is subject to sudden and severe flooding. In case of flood emergency be prepared to seek high ground immediately.”

To find out if your property is located in the 100-year floodplain, you can use the parcel information lookup map and search your address.

Boulder Rental License Requirements Completed and Post Inspection

And there you have it. A summary of all the Boulder Rental License Requirements in under 1000 words. We hope that this helps you prepare for your rental license inspection. We have found that a small amount of homework will save you a lot of headaches when completing this inspection.

Once the inspection is completed, our company will email you a copy of the inspection compliance form. You will combine these 2 pages with the rest of your rental license application and submit it to the city.

One note for all new rentals that have never been a rental in the city of Boulder.

Along with the rental license requirements, you will also need to pass a SmartRegs Inspection. This is Boulder’s initiative to reduce the energy usage of rental units. We have another blog post that can help you with your SmartRegs requirements as well. You can also see if your property has already passed a SmartRegs inspection here. If it has, the certification transfers to present and future owners.

We hope this helps clear up any questions you had about Boulder’s Rental License requirements. In general, the inspections do not take long, and our inspectors will help you identify any required repairs.

If you are in need of a rental license inspection, consider using Scott Home Inspection. We have multiple inspectors, trained and certified, to complete these inspections. You will also receive a discount for multiple units, or if the rental inspection is combined with our standard home inspection. Schedule your inspection today.

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About the Author: Chris Scott

Chris Scott is an ASHI certified home inspector with multiple years of experience in home inspections, blower door testing, duct leakage testing, and Boulder Rental License Inspections. Chris is also the Website Coordinator for Scott Home Inspection.

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    Jon Ray Gardner March 18, 2020 at 8:26 am

    Very informative article and very timely! I am working with an owner who is confused about flood plain signage at her townhome rental unit located in a 100 year floodplain. Your article says it should be posted on the inside of the front door. However, B.R.C. 10-2-310.1 states it should be “on the exterior of the premises at the entrance” and “shall be a metal plaque with minimum ¼ inch letters in a contrasting color attached with nonremovable fasteners”. In your experience, does a sign on the inside of the door satisfy the requirements? If it does need to be on the exterior, would one such sign work for all 4 units in the townhome building in your opinion? Thanks for all the great information!

    • Chris Scott March 18, 2020 at 8:40 am

      Hey John,

      The handbook does say that this needs to be on the exterior of the home. Occasionally we see homeowners combine this with the occupancy sign. Thanks for pointing that out though. I will update the article.

      On your 2nd question, the handbook is not clear about if one sign will work for a 4 building property. It just states that you need outside the doorway. This is a great question for the city. You can contact the RLI department directly at 303-441-3152.


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