Topeka — A proposed change in a landlord-tenant law pleases Topeka police officers but worries Lawrence landlords and tenants.
Police here say they need the power to evict problem renters as part of their ongoing effort to make neighborhoods safer while making life harder for drug dealers and other criminals.
But the major changes they seek in the state's landlord-tenant law have sparked concern among some Lawrence city officials, tenant advocates and landlords who say the proposed changes are too sweeping and ill-conceived.
Senate Bill 628, now before a Kansas Senate Judiciary subcommittee, would allow prosecuting attorneys to evict renters within three days of their arrest for crimes ranging from murder to patronizing a prostitute. Eviction under the proposed new law would not hinge on conviction for the crime charged. And prosecutors could evict those charged with or without their landlord's consent or knowledge.
``The fact someone could be arrested, evicted, and then later be found innocent in a court of law is contrary to the American justice system,'' said Mark Moseley, a critic of the proposal and a spokesman for Housing and Credit Counseling Inc., a Lawrence tenant-advocacy group.
Moseley predicted the law, if passed, ultimately will be ruled unconstitutional because it violates the due-process rights of renters.
``My guess is the court would throw it out, leaving landlords with no eviction powers until the Legislature could come back next year and fix the law,'' he said.
Others in Lawrence agree the measure is seriously flawed and are attempting to persuade Kansas lawmakers to vote against it.
``This...seems to violate our constitution,'' members of City of Lawrence Human Relations Department wrote Wednesday to the Senate Judiciary Committee. ``It goes too far... There is no recourse or defense for a tenant who is unjustly put on the street and deprived of his dwelling.''
The bill, besides granting new eviction powers to prosecutors, would change the current landlord-tenant law in other significant ways:
- Current law allows eviction of rent-paying tenants by their landlords only after they have been given 30 days notice of lease violations which they fail to correct within 14 days of the notice. SB 628 would shorten the eviction notice period to seven days, even in landlord-tenant disputes that involve no allegation of criminal behavior.
- Current law contains no provision allowing eviction on three-day notice. Nor does it contain provisions granting prosecutors eviction powers equal or superior to those of landlords. SB 628 would allow district attorneys quickly to evict those charged with crimes and then recover the costs of the action and attorney fees from the landlords.
``It's evicting without convicting,'' said Bob Ebey, a spokesman for Landlords of Lawrence Inc. ``It's not giving a person their rights. To me, it seems unconstitutional.''
Ebey said his group opposes the bill.
But another Lawrence landlord organization testified Wednesday in favor of the proposal.
``Landlords do not want rapists, burglars ... or other dangerous persons on their premises,'' said Evan Ice on behalf of Lawrence Apartment Assn. ``Under existing law, there is an ambiguity as to whether landlords can evict these persons.''
Ice asked that legislators modify the portion of the bill dealing with fees and costs assessable to landlords.
But, ``on the whole,'' he said, ``the bill as written is better than the existing law.''
The bill was introduced by Topeka lawmakers at the request of Topeka Police Sgt. Byron Endsley, who said it is modeled on similar laws in New Mexico and Arizona.
Endsley said police need it to shut down Topeka drug houses, which often are the scene of gunplay and other violence.
``A lot of people don't know what it's like to live in a place where you don't feel safe to be in your front yard,'' Endsley said. ``I have a hard time with tenant groups opposing this. This isn't just a police issue. This is a health and safety issue for everyone in the state of Kansas.''
Opponents of the bill will be given opportunity to speak against it this afternoon. Members of the Judiciary Committee are tentatively scheduled to vote on the bill Monday.
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