UPDATE | Aug. 2, 11 p.m. — Denver City Council passed the bill for an ordinance to increase the maximum fines the health department can assess to up to $5,000 during the Aug. 2 meeting.
DENVER — The City of Denver is considering a proposal to significantly increase the fines businesses could face for public health violations.
For decades, the fines have been capped at $999 per public health violation in the city. Under the proposal, the new cap would be $5,000 per incident.
The health department says the change is allowed under state law and would put Denver in line with other local governments across the state for public health fines.
Bob McDonald, the public health administrator for the City of Denver, says the increase in fines is necessary because the current cap isn’t enough to stop some businesses that are repeat offenders from violating the public health order.
“Sometimes we come across situations where a person might not comply with an order, putting people at risk, and the $999 fine is not enough to keep them from making a poor decision,” McDonald said. “We’re hoping that a higher incentive with the $5,000 fine will get people to think twice about doing that.”
While the public health fines have been around for years, some businesses’ noncompliance only started gaining attention during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Some businesses were shut down entirely while others faced fines. However, for years Denver Public Health has been dealing with some habitual offenders, like the former Pembrooke on the Green Apartments.
In 2019, the apartment was fined 12 times for violations, mainly for a rat infestation.
“I’ve been here about two years now, and when I first got here, it just seemed like they weren’t there or they didn’t care,” Jeremy Polito said. “I wouldn’t even get a call back, I wouldn’t get email, no nothing.”
Polito never saw the rats, but he did experience termites and cockroaches.
Residents say it took a change of ownership for something to finally start to be done. The apartment complex was sold in 2020 to Bridge Property Management.
“We actually used to own the property before we sold it to the prior owner that we purchased it from. We had made quite a few improvements beforehand, and then we were a little bit surprised at the condition that we received it back in,” said Jennifer Luikens, the vice president of the company.
In the year since, the new management has done roof repairs, made updates to the hallways, installed new windows, updated the landscaping to help with rodent issue, added LED lighting, put in a new playground, soccer field and two dog parks. They've also added new community programs.
“We really want to build a community,” Luikens said. “We want to make sure that we are providing a healthy living environment.”
Polito says he has noticed the changes, and he gives a lot of credit to the new management company for trying to improve things.
However, not all habitual offenders are going to change management companies to get into compliance and McDonald hopes a higher fine cap would encourage more companies to comply.
Another habitual offender from 2019 records obtained by Denver7 was Waste Management of Colorado.
The trash collection service was fined the maximum amount for noise violations at numerous locations around Denver 42 times, resulting in nearly $42,000 in fines.
If the new $5,000 fine cap were to be implemented, those 42 violations could have resulted in $210,000 worth of fines.
However, McDonald says the health department would work to educate the business and give it warnings before a fine is assessed. It would then typically start with a low-level fine before increasing.
The proposal is now awaiting a vote from the Denver city council.