About 3,000 additional apartments would undergo city inspections if commissioners approve the city manager's plan to expand Lawrence's existing rental registration program.
But some city commissioners are concerned about the approximately $150,000 the new program would add to the budget.
"This may be too ambitious given the financial condition we're in," Mayor Mike Dever said. "There's a time and a place to implement new programs, and this one appears to be timed poorly."
As proposed by City Manager David Corliss, the program would require any rental unit at least 50 years old to register with the city and undergo an inspection at least once every three years to ensure it meets basic health and safety codes.
Currently, only rental units in single-family homes are required to be registered and inspected, although tenants of any rental unit can request a city inspection.
Expanding the program is an intriguing idea to some commissioners.
"The issue of life and safety is part of the oath of office that we take," said City Commissioner Mike Amyx, although he said he would rather try to do the program with existing staff members instead of Corliss' recommendation to add two new inspectors.
Amyx, however, may not end up with a vote on the item. Amyx owns rental property in the city and has asked staff members to research ethics laws to determine whether he can vote on the matter. Commissioner Sue Hack, according to past substantial interest statements, also owns rental property in the city.
Members of the Oread Neighborhood Association have lobbied for the additional inspections.
"I think there are a lot of people who are not living in very good conditions," said Candice Davis, vice president of the Oread Neighborhood Association. "And some renters aren't in a good position to complain. They fear they won't have a place to live."
The program would allow city inspectors to check for electrical problems, plumbing issues, fire code violations and other similar concerns.
Davis said there are several rental units in the Oread neighborhood that are deteriorating and will ultimately cause blight to take hold in the neighborhood. She thinks the 50-year limit will catch most of the problem properties.
Landlords, though, have expressed concerns about cost and fairness issues. Bob Ebey, who owns 13 rental units and is a member of Landlords of Lawrence, said he's concerned about a fee increase that accompanies Corliss' proposal. If adopted, the annual rental registration fee would increase from $25 to $40.
Ebey said he also thought the city was being unfair by not inspecting newer apartment complexes.
"You can take a five-year-old unit and it could be as bad off as a 60-year-old unit if there isn't any maintenance done on it," Ebey said.
Corliss, though, said that is often not the case. He said he recommended inspections for property 50 years or older because past inspection history showed those properties were more likely to have significant health and safety issues.
Corliss said he recommended the fee increase in order to make the program self-sustaining and to pay for the two new inspectors at $47,000 apiece.