Some secondary housing units remain unregistered

Grace period for owners to document residences ends Sept. 30

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— Despite the waiving of fees and other efforts to get the owners of secondary units to register with the city of Steamboat Springs, officials think several of the small residences remain undocumented - and potentially unsafe.

Codes adopted in 2001 require all secondary units - those located on the same lot as a larger, principal dwelling unit - to be registered and subject to code review. This year, the secondary unit ordinance was revised to close an enforcement loophole and require that units be inspected for mandatory safety features.

The revised regulations came in the wake of David Engle's June 15, 2008, death in his Old Town apartment. Engle died of smoke inhalation after falling asleep while making french fries on his gas stove. The smoke from the grease fire also killed Engle's dog. In the days after Engle's death, an investigation revealed that the one-bedroom residence he rented from a local couple had no smoke detectors. The unit also wasn't registered as a legal residential dwelling.

In conjunction with the adoption of the new regulations, the city and the Routt County Regional Building Department also created a grace period to encourage the owners of secondary units to come into compliance. So far, however, only 13 people have applied to have their unit registered, city code enforcement officer Christy Patterson said.

"A lot of people don't realize how easy it is to register these things," she said.

During the grace period, a $50 planning fee is waived and the Building Department has dropped its inspection fee from $500 to $100. The grace period ends Sept. 30.

"They just have to be safe," Patterson said about secondary units. "From what we've seen so far, a lot of these units are not safe."

Patterson said some units don't have handrails on staircases and others still lack smoke detectors, even when they are physically attached to a principal residence.

"If they don't have a smoke detector in their secondary unit, they may as well not have one in their home," she said. "So many of these places do not have smoke detectors."

Patterson said she has driven around town looking for residences that appear to be unregistered secondary units, and she is preparing a letter to send to the owners of those properties. She estimated there are 40 to 50 secondary units that remain unregistered.

"This is actually something we're going out and looking for," she said.

Like other violations of the city's Community Development Code, operating an unregistered secondary unit carries a fine as heavy as $999 a day. For more information, call the Planning and Community Development Department at 871-8258.

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