KU Student Senate to lobby for renters

Revisions sought on deposits, renewal clauses

Allyson Flaster, who now lives in Basehor, says she will never rent in Lawrence again. She and her husband had a bad experience with a landlord while attending Kansas University; even though they had fixed up a crumbling bathroom, the landlord charged them a cleaning fee after their lease was up because they left a few items in a drawer.

Slugs squirmed out of the walls in Allyson Flaster’s old Lawrence apartment. In the bathroom, the shower walls crumbled.

When she left, the former Kansas University graduate student lost hundreds of dollars for cleaning fees, though she says she left the apartment in better condition than she found it.

“I refuse to rent ever again in Lawrence,” said Flaster, who lived in the city from 2000 to 2004 and now lives in Basehor.

Kansas University’s student government wants to make the rental experience – a reality for roughly 80 percent of KU’s student population – a little bit better.

A measure moving through KU’s student government would press state lawmakers to amend the Kansas Landlord Tenant Act. The students want to address automatic renewal clauses and the language regarding security deposits on leases.

“The things we’re proposing are not ridiculous or outrageous,” said Josh Bender, a KU student and Student Senate legislative director.

Bender said students were still working on the details. But they want to set a standard for the time when landlords must notify tenants about the automatic renewal clause.

Many leases have a clause that indicates the contract will be renewed automatically if a tenant does not give proper notice otherwise. Landlords give tenants advance notice of the date of automatic renewal. KU’s student governments want to make this process more uniform.

The students also want to make sure tenants are charged for actual costs of cleaning and repairs, which are now set by landlords.

Bender said many landlords already did what these plans called for.

“We simply want to make sure everybody is following the same practices,” he said.

Legal hurdles

But some say the students won’t succeed in getting changes to the Landlord Tenant Act.

“I think they’re fighting a dead dog,” said Bob Ebey, vice president of Landlords of Lawrence Inc. and legislative liaison for Associated Landlords of Kansas.

Ebey said he believed the Landlord Tenant Act equally aids both landlords and tenants and he opposes attempts to change it.

“Once it’s open, then legislators can make any change they want,” he said. “Once it’s opened up, these legislators will try 10 or 15 different changes.”

And one word can change the whole law, he said.

Bill Larzalere, a staff attorney with KU’s Legal Services for Students, said automatic renewals and damage charges were among the two biggest problems reported by students.

He said the automatic renewals had few benefits, if any, for tenants.

“Our position is the automatic renewals are unconscionable and unenforceable,” he said.

And pre-set charges for damages also can be unfair, he said, because the pre-set charges are always higher than the actual cost of fixing something.

“It is an uphill battle for the students to get the money back if a landlord withholds money,” Larzalere said.

Horror stories

While many maintain that not all landlords in Lawrence are bad, horror stories remain.

Mike Moeller, a KU junior, called one rental episode in Lawrence the “worst experience of my life.”

Electrical outlets that didn’t work. Cable channels paid for but not received. General filth and disrepair.

“The real chart topper was the fiasco with our bathroom on the main floor,” he said.

Two sides of the shower were made of a painted plastic. The spraying water caused the paint to flake and peel off, clogging the drain. A plumbing problem led to a hole in the bathroom wall. It took months to fix the pipes.

Calling for assistance was a struggle, Moeller said.

“We just had to stand by in this crappy house as it fell down all around us,” he said.

At move-out time, Moeller said he was charged for a broken fan that didn’t exist and for window blinds that he, not the landlord, bought and discarded.

“It was a very strange thing,” he said. “I had not realized how cold the world could be until this happened. It changed my life.”