Two Midwest college towns took action to encourage maintenance of safe rental housing.
Renters in two Big Eight Conference towns don't have to rely only on themselves to cross code-breaking rental housing off their lists of potential homes.
Unlike the city of Lawrence, Manhattan and Columbia, Mo., have developed quality control programs for rental property.
In 1978, Columbia adopted a Rental Unit Conservation Law that required landlords to have a certificate of compliance for every house or apartment rented.
When the program was initiated, all housing had to be inspected annually for health and safety problems. Today, units must be inspected every three years to remain in compliance.
"Those first two or three years, we were finding major problems -- foundations falling in, inadequate electrical wiring -- you name it," said Larry Monroe, Columbia's chief building inspector.
"That was what drew the attention of the city fathers -- the conditions so many of the students were living in."
Lawrence Mayor Jo Andersen said she would be reluctant to endorse a mandatory inspection program in Lawrence.
"If you create an inspection program, you create an additional expense," said Jack Brand, an attorney who represents owners of 3,000 apartments in Lawrence.
"What are you going to do -- add two or three inspectors? The apartment owner gets the bill. Eventually, that will all come back to tenants," he said.
Officials in Manhattan took a less radical approach than Columbia to deal with rental housing problems.
City staff annually prepares a list of Manhattan landlords who violate city codes. The list is available to anyone who asks for a copy. The list charts the three-year violation record of all landlords cited for deficiencies.
Mac Campbell, chief building officer in Manhattan, said the city issues a dated and signed compliance sticker for units that meet minimum standards.
The stickers are placed on rental properties so potential renters know immediately whether there's trouble inside, he said.