Archive for Monday, July 17, 2006

Frequency of housing inspections at issue

July 17, 2006


The head of the city's Code Enforcement division said he's in favor of requiring periodic inspections of multi-family rental property to help crack down on slumlords in the city.

"Would an inspection of multi-family homes address that? Definitely," Code Enforcement Manager Brian Jimenez said. "It's something that the city needs to look at."

The call for the new policy comes just days after Jimenez and Zoning Enforcement Officer Tony De La Torre condemned parts of a rental property at 1008 Miss. because of conditions that could have left tenants without a way to escape if a fire started.

Those conditions included a shoddily constructed porch that served as a tenant's only entrance, basement apartment windows too small to crawl through and the absence of smoke detectors throughout the complex.

The Journal-World reported Monday the condemnation sent at least three former residents searching for a place to stay just three days after Jimenez and De La Torre visited the property.

Now, Jimenez says annual inspections could prevent the same kinds of dangers for other tenants, as well as cut down on the spate of Lawrence landlords who neglect their multi-family rental properties.

Since the beginning of 2004, the city has inspected 321 residences, the majority of which were multi-family home inspections triggered by resident complaints, city records show.

The remainder includes single-family homes that are inspected once every three years, according to city policy.

Records show that during those inspections, the city cited 929 violations, roughly three violations for every rental property inspected. Those violations ranged from minor problems like broken windows to serious violations such as those that condemned the two apartments at 1008 Miss. last week.

Jimenez admitted the city leveled many violations against repeat offenders - problem property owners who routinely show up on Code Enforcement reports.

For example, city records show Del Hedgepath, the owner of the condemned 1008 Miss. apartments, has been cited for code violations at least 13 times since 2004, including the three recent violations at the apartment.

Hedgepath said earlier this week he wasn't aware the deck of 1008 Miss. wasn't up to code, and he would work to get the property in compliance.

But Jimenez said the problem was widespread.

"They're out there," Jimenez said. "They're everywhere."

Commissioner Sue Hack said she became aware of the situation after the Journal-World reported on the incident, and she said the time has come for the city to take some action to protect residents.

"When there's a situation where there isn't a smoke alarm anywhere in the house, that's terrifying to me," Hack said. "It's too bad it takes something like this to thump us in the head."

Hack acknowledged that conducting more inspections would mean more costs for additional city resources.

Jimenez said the resources needed would likely include at least four additional staff members to do the inspections.

Startup would incur some of the highest cost, he said, as the city would have to conduct surveys to document all the city's multiple-family homes and apartments. Then, staff salaries and other office expenses would require an increase in the department's annual budget.

"There's no way I could pull it off with the staff I have," he said. "It's impossible."

The Codes Enforcement division currently employs two zoning enforcement officers and two environmental inspectors.

To pay for the possible added resources, Hack said she hoped possible licensing fees required of multi-family property owners would help offset costs.

And Jimenez said the fees could add enough to the Neighborhood Resources budget to offset some annual salary costs for new inspectors.

"It would help considerably," he said.

James Dunn, a local landlord and president of Landlords of Lawrence, said he thought most landlords wouldn't favor inspections on multi-family homes.

"Landlords are always resistant to things like that," Dunn said.

If landlords of multi-family properties have to pay inspection fees, they'd likely pass those costs onto tenants, Dunn said. Plus, upgrading many properties can be expensive, and those costs would often show up as rent increases.

Dunn said the system in place now - where inspectors examine a property once a complaint is filed - is effective for dealing with property condition problems.

"The rules that are there now," Dunn said, "it works."


neuropenguin 11 years, 5 months ago

Of course it would also be better if people had some "affordable" housing options in this city that weren't run by slumlords...

monkeyhawk 11 years, 5 months ago

I am the last person in favor of more government intrusion. However, since the city is now practicing selective enforcement, what is good for the goose is good for the gander. The property managers that I am familiar with in this town are on the opposite end of the "slumlord" spectrum. There are quite a few who have something called pride in their investments. During my last scheduled inspection, the city employee remarked that my property was in the top 5% of all properties.

When the same properties are inspected time and again, the corrections have been made, and all those properties should be pretty much up to code. On the other hand, deplorable dumps are allowed to continue to deteriorate and jeopardize the well-being of their tenants.

Inspections should be done on ALL rental units, including ALL massive complexes. The management of said properties should have to pay the same fee I pay every year PER UNIT. If that was the case, there should be an abundance of cash available to finance the new personnel necassary to conduct code checks. I should not have to pay twice for it - once in the form of licensing fees, and then again as a taxpayer.

Diana Lee 11 years, 5 months ago

I think more inspections would be good for public safety, but I'm just not sure where the tenants are supposed to go if their rentals are deemed unsafe. People generally don't live somewhere that is unsafe because it is their preference. They may not have any other options.

Emily Hadley 11 years, 5 months ago

What is the difference between single and multiple family dwellings that justifies any disparity in inspections?

just_another_bozo_on_this_bus 11 years, 5 months ago

So what if they pass the cost on-- it'll add maybe a couple bucks a month to the rent, but at least the landlord has to provide a livable and safe structure in order to rent it.

Godot 11 years, 5 months ago

Only 321 inspections done since 2004, and most were the result of complaints on multiple family units?

Then what is the licensing fee of $25 per SINGLE FAMILY house being used for?

How many single family homes have actually been registered as rentals? Hey, Ron, find out, please.

Godot 11 years, 5 months ago

"Startup would incur some of the highest cost, he said, as the city would have to conduct surveys to document all the city's multiple-family homes and apartments."

Oh, come on, you don't have to do a survey. Just require every landlord to get a license, and pay a fee, per unit. $25 per unit. Give them a year to comply. After a year, fine the ones that have not registered, as you come across them. That is what you do for single family rentals; do the same for multi-family.

Confrontation 11 years, 5 months ago

Does anyone know if the city record of violations is posted online somewhere? All incoming KU students should be given a list of the horrible slumlords in this town, before they get suckered into renting from them. I rented from Kaw Valley Property Management, and they have to be the most useless slumlord agency in Lawrence.

pelliott 11 years, 5 months ago

James Dunn has a history of keeping his property nice. I have known four different people who have rented from him in different places, while not cheap, whenever a repair needed to be made he was very quick. He is one of the better landlords in town. To call him a slumlord because he was quoted is wrong. Many of his properties are older but very well maintained. I would guess the yearly inspections would creat a whirlwind of repairs and upgrade the housing and rental stock in this town, it could save lives. While I don't agree the current situation does the job, to argue that anyone who doesn't agree is a slum lord is pretty poor arguement, the kind of slur, accuse, debate that people on this forum jump to instead of using their noodle.

Godot 11 years, 5 months ago

I'm stuck on that figure of 321 inspections since 2004.

Four inspectors have conducted 321 insections in 32 months. That comes to 10 inspections per month. These guys are doing less than one inspection PER WEEK, each? How much are we paying for this?

I had two inspections last year, and one the year before. These were routine "licensing" inspections, not the result of any complaint. None of them reulsted in any violations, so there was no follow up required, no extra paperwork. Each inspection took less than 10 minutes.

What is going on in that department, anyway? Clearly, not much in the way of inspections.

just_another_bozo_on_this_bus 11 years, 5 months ago

Clearly, it must be that everyone in the dept. is lazy and shiftless, Godot, and it couldn't possibly be that the JW isn't reporting it accurately.

Janet Lowther 11 years, 5 months ago

The economic reason for homelessness is obvious and well known: Building codes and code enforcement.

Building codes & their enforcement improve the quality of housing stock. However, they set a floor below which rents will not go.

I was astounded to see that a house down the block from me is up for rent at $1400/mo. That is a dollar per square foot per month. It is a nice house and the newest on the block by decades, but. . .

Kathleen Christian 11 years, 5 months ago

Well it's about time someone noticed inspections were needed. The rents go up and the property and housing appearances go down. Of course the expense will be passed onto the tenants, creating more unaffordable housing because wages have yet to increase in this town. This is ridulous and like a vicious never-ending circle. (Must be where they got the idea of roundabouts). Increase wages to a living standard, inspect rentals and charge a fair rent. Perhaps then there may be affordable housing worth living in. It's not rocket science people.

dviper 11 years, 5 months ago

I'm all for making every structure in this city 100% safe, so if the commission decides to go down this road, then let's include all the downtown buildings both public and private. I would suspect that at least 70% of downtown building structures are non-compliant. If you include sidewalks, there isn't one property in all of downtown that is compliant, including city hall.

Why hasn't the City of Lawrence done its' job enforcing city ordinances? As usual, the LJW could have done a much better job researching and reporting on this issue. There are thousands of code violations that have gone unchecked for years around this city. They are especially prevalent in a 20 block radius around the downtown and the university.

But Jimenez said the problem was widespread. "They're out there," Jimenez said. "They're everywhere."

From this statement it sounds like the city or at least Jimenez is aware of some widespread problems, but doing nothing about it. And then we've got at least one city commissioner if not more saying, "It's too bad it takes something like this to thump us in the head.".

Well commissioners, get off you're a$$es and do something. Opening your eyes instead of your tax and spend mouths might be a good start. Take a drive or walk through our city neighborhoods, and take a notebook and pen, maybe you'll learn something.

If the city would do its' job, consistantly on a day to day basis, as they are paid to do, we the taxpayers would not have to continually pay new and increased taxes for what should have been done properly the first time or checked weeks, months or years ago. Sounds familiar doesn't it. Just like how the streets and sewers are now a huge problem, because the city can't adequately maintain, monitor and repair the infrastructure of the city.

It is long past due for a complete and through cleaning of all 'do nothing' city employees, especially in middle and senior management, as well as city commissioners.

Citizens of Lawrence, please get out and vote in the next local elections.

Hawkman 11 years, 5 months ago

So help me understand why people would rent a house or apartment if they dont like the place? Do they not have the responsibility to check things out before they put their name on the contract? I suppose for people like agnostick that would be too much effort. It would be much easier to sign and then bitch, huh?

NorthLawrenceDude 11 years, 5 months ago

I heard over the week end from a property mangager that I know, that the tenants in that Mississippi house had taken down the smoke dectors because they were "beeping". (Because of low batteries) HOW STUPID! Wouldn't it be easier and SMARTER to just put in a new battery? I think the tenants that rent some of these places are worse than the landlords.

NorthLawrenceDude 11 years, 5 months ago

So offtotheright, are we correct to assume the fat tenant that called the city was dirty, and took down the smoke detectors? That is the same story I heard from my property manager friend. I totally believe it. Like I said before, I pay over 900 per month in North Lawrence..for a "fair" house. I saw it when I moved in, then signed the lease. If I want to move, I will give proper notice. I certainly won't blame the landlord for my laziness, and lack of housekeeping. Geez people, Wake up!

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