Slum tour 

City cracks down on negligent landlords

In June, city police launched an inspection tour of Colorado Springs' large and sometimes squalid, neglected and crime ridden apartment complexes.

In four and a half months, two officers have so far covered about a third of the city and turned up almost 1,000 housing code violations, condemned 10 apartments, handed out 37 sanitation violations and discovered 111 junked or unlicensed vehicles.

Word of the crackdown has spread far and fast, said Pat Wilson, one of the two officers on the new beat -- and sometimes, for the owners, just in the nick of time. "The tenants will tell us 'they just fixed it,'" Wilson said.

The police tour was launched in the wake of several major media-spotlight scandals that rocked Colorado Springs' apartment industry last winter. After hearing reports of tenants using ovens to keep warm, roach-infested apartments and recalcitrant landlords, City Council this spring amended city code to impose $250 fines for each instance of repeat noncompliance with the city's housing code.

Council also charged the police department with creating the two-officer inspection team. Of the 957 violations discovered since June, mostly plumbing leaks, burnt-out hallway lights, roaches and mold, none have been cited as life threatening. Only one rental property owner, at St. Vrain Gardens, has been fined for noncompliance.

That's progress, says Karon DiPentino, the police department's code enforcement administrator. "For the large complexes, word spreads," she said. In some cases, she means it literally. Sometimes when the two officers show up at a multi-building apartment complex, "by the time they get to the third building, repairs are being made [on the remaining buildings]."

-- Dan Wilcock


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