Landlords challenge students on leases

Tenants seek law that standardizes clauses, ends arbitrary charges

? Kansas University students on Thursday went to the Legislature seeking relief from what they said were unscrupulous landlords.

What they got was some student-bashing.

“I’m a landlord,” said Rep. Mike Kiegerl, R-Olathe. “And with all due respect, I do not consider college students the most desirable tenants, particularly males in their early 20s.”

Alicia Smiley, district manager for First Management Inc. of Lawrence, said college students had left unbelievable messes in the company’s rentals.

“They naturally don’t clean up after themselves,” she said.

But for all the tenant horror stories, Josh Bender said there were landlord horror stories, too.

As legislative director for the KU Student Senate, Bender has been pushing for changes in the Kansas landlord-tenant act that would standardize lease renewal clauses, eliminate arbitrary lists of charges and require walk-throughs within one month of the end of a lease to determine move-out charges.

“Our goal is to amend current law in such a way as to create an equitable relationship between landlords and tenants,” Bender said.

Bender said tenant allegations of unfair landlords in Lawrence were reaching crisis level, with student legal services at KU spending half its time sorting through the complaints.

“It’s not really a fair market,” he said. Some landlords are charging exorbitant cleaning and repair costs, forcing students to renew leases too early in the lease agreements and hiding other kinds of charges, he said.

Last month, the Senate adopted, 23-17, many of Bender’s recommended changes.

But several members of the House Commerce and Labor Committee noted the large number of KU students and Lawrence landlords at the meeting, and told Bender he should take his proposal to Lawrence City Hall.

Bender, however, said the problems existed in all college towns across Kansas and needed a statewide solution.

Attorney Matthew Hoy, representing the Lawrence Apartment Assn., which includes 20 landlords owning 2,000 units, said the proposed restrictions on landlords would lead to increased rents.

Hoy said the proposal also would hurt military families from the headquarters of the 1st Infantry Division, which is returning to Fort Riley.

“What would we have to greet them? Increased rents,” he said.

One of the main complaints from landlords was that it would be impossible to estimate damage and cleanup charges if they were forced to make that determination one month before the tenant was to move out.

The committee took no action. It appeared several members wanted to kill the bill, though some lawmakers rose to the students’ defense.

Rep. Stephanie Sharp, R-Lenexa, said most students just paid whatever the landlord demanded because they couldn’t pay for a legal challenge.

“I know most students live on ramen noodles and can’t afford to hire a lawyer,” she said.

Clark Lindstrom, a regional property manager with The Peterson Cos., which manages Park 25 Apartments, 2401 W. 25th St., also spoke against the bill.

Ironically, Lindstrom said that in the 1970s, as a political science student, he was in the same position as Bender.

Lindstrom said he was an intern for then-Gov. Bob Docking, and that he helped draw up the original landlord-tenant act from notes written by attorneys on a cocktail napkin in a Lawrence bar.

He said when he presented the legislation to a committee, landlords jumped all over him.

Now, more than 30 years older and representing rental property owners, Lindstrom said the current law was fair to tenants and landlords. Problems, he said, “would better be handled on an individual basis.”