Archive for Monday, February 16, 2009

Program would require inspection of older rental properties

City commissioners on Tuesday will grapple with the idea of creating a new rental licensing program that neighborhood groups like and that landlords generally don’t.

February 16, 2009


City commissioners on Tuesday will grapple with the idea of creating a new rental licensing program that neighborhood groups like and that landlords generally don’t.

And they’ll do it all against the backdrop of financial uncertainty at City Hall, as property tax revenues and state funding are both expected to decline.

“It might be a good program, but it might not be the right time for it,” said City Commissioner Rob Chestnut.

The program — first seriously discussed last summer — would require landlords of residential rental property at least 50 years old to register the property with the city. The properties then would be inspected at least once every three years by city employees, who would be checking to ensure the property is kept up to basic life, health and safety maintenance codes.

Currently, the city only requires rental property that is zoned single family to register and be inspected. The new program would include apartment buildings, duplexes and other residential zoning types — if the property is at least 50 years old.

City staff members are saying the program can pay for itself if the city’s current rental registration fee is raised from $25 to $60 per year. The program is expected to require about $150,000 per year in funding. The bulk of the expense involves hiring two inspectors and an administrative support specialist to oversee the paperwork.

If approved, the program would come at the same time the city is contemplating layoffs in other departments, if state funding to cities is cut as expected.

City Commissioner Sue Hack said she also was concerned it would come at the same time that many residents are struggling to pay rent.

“Even if you divide the fee by 12, I’m afraid that if it is inevitably passed along to the tenants that it will be people who can afford it the least who will be hit the hardest,” Hack said.

City administrators — who were off Monday for President’s Day — previously have supported adding the program because it could improve housing safety. City Manager David Corliss included it in his 2009 recommended budget. Scott McCullough, who would oversee the program as the city’s director of planning and development services, also has been supportive of the program.

“Staff believes an expansion of a consumer protection program that is cost neutral and benefits the community in several different ways should be considered in any economy,” McCullough wrote in a recent staff memo.

Chestnut, though, said he’s not sure the city has done enough to notify tenants that they currently have the right to have their apartment inspected by city inspectors. Any tenant in the city — regardless of the age of rental unit they live in — can call the city’s development services department to alert inspectors of housing code violations.

During the last three years, city inspectors have responded to 253 such complaints. Chestnut thinks the number could be higher if the city did more to educate renters.

The new program is expected to add about 2,500 properties to the already 2,000 rental properties that get inspected at least once every three years.

Members of Oread Neighborhood first asked for the program after expressing concern about the number of older rental homes and boarding houses that were falling into disrepair. Since then, other neighborhoods near KU also have supported creating the program.

Several landlords have expressed reservations with the proposal, saying that if the city wants to expand the inspection program that all rentals, regardless of age, should be required to register.

Commissioners meet at 6:35 p.m. Tuesday at City Hall, Sixth and Massachusetts streets.


ohgeeze 9 years, 2 months ago

Does this include things you've asked your landlord to fix and they havent? Where do I get a copy of housing codes? And what's the number to city’s development services department?? That would have been good information to include....

geniusmannumber1 9 years, 2 months ago

Never ceases to amaze me when people complain that newspaper articles don't contain specific information that is only tangential to the story, that is readily available, and that they are too lazy to find for themselves.

cowboy 9 years, 2 months ago

I can guarantee you that two inspectors will not be able to handle the load once you get operating. There are so many dilapidated , moldy , crumbling , code violating , firetrap , just plain nasty rental properties in this town that they will have their hands full documenting , reinspecting, insuring compliance. What are the inspection points going to be ? Listening to these commissioners comments the landlords have already gotten to them.

Will the landlords be allowed to make their own repairs. Under current contractor laws in lawrence they won't be able to do anything structural , electrical , or major plumbing unless they are licensed in that specialty or a general contractor.

I think this is a noble fight to get the housing up to snuff. I also think the city has regulated itself into a spot with contractor licensing that enactment of this would be a nightmare. The city would be required to verify work was performed by a licensed contractor.

I also don't know why a fee increase is necessary as the work will generate a number of permits and the associated fees. Seems poorly thought out.

They probably won't admit that though. Much easier to say "its not the right time" , "it may cost to much".

honestone 9 years, 2 months ago

If the inspections were consistent from one property to the next it might be a good idea...they are not...I have had an inspector not even enter a property and pass it and nit-pick the next property. If the inspections were for ALL rental property it might be a good idea...they are not...I have been in places 10 years old that I wouldn't let someone live in. If the junior lawyers out there understood the rules it might be a good idea to educate the students...but they don't... landlords have to hire lawyers to fight kids who "think" they know the rules and that cost gets passed on to all of the renters. If the landlords weren't just going to pass on the cost of fees, and repairs to the tenants then it would be a good idea but that's not reality.

Chris Ogle 9 years, 2 months ago

One would think that the city would be working on the budget shortfall..... or maybe that is exactly what they are doing.

igby 9 years, 2 months ago

Why are the builders still building apartments when there are so many vacant in town?

Behind Wal*Mart and on west 23rd!

cowboy 9 years, 2 months ago

Compton has got to do something with all that money , building tomorrow's ghettos

justforfun 9 years, 2 months ago

Cowboy sounds a touch jelous! FYI Compton aka First Mgmt isnt building anything in Lawrence right now. If you would seriously look at FMI residential properties they look a hell of alot better than most in town. Being jelous will get you no where. B4 all the coments on the downtown properties note that I spoke of residential.

workinghard 9 years, 2 months ago

What they don't tell you is that if a tenant files a complaint and the city inspects and then notifies the landlord of repairs that must be done by a specific time, if the tenant has to move out so repairs can be done, the complaint is dropped and the landlord does not have to do the repairs. The landlord is then free to rent out the unit without doing any repairs and the city must then wait until someone complains again. You would think that the city would change that so the landlord would have to make the repairs regardless.

workinghard 9 years, 2 months ago

I agree with honestone, I too have been to newer apartment buildings that are in shocking condition. I don't know how old the apartments managed by Jawhawk properties on the west side of Iowa are but they are in serious disrepair.

So would the owner of an apartment building have to pay $60 per unit or $60 for the building? It wouldn't seem fair that the landlord of a single family residence would have to pay the same for one unit as the owner of a building with eight units. Leave the single units at $25 if that is the case.

Richard Heckler 9 years, 2 months ago

It will work only if teeth are in the ordinance. Otherwise landlords will stonewall.

Chad Lawhorn: How many city commissioners own rental property?

sourpuss 9 years, 2 months ago

Good. Create some work for contractors that doesn't involve putting up ugly beige houses. Fix up the older buildings in Lawrence. They give the town character. Make the landlords spread some of that money around. Many of the worst properties are owned by out-of-staters anyway so keep the money local! Oh, and inspect 1145 Indiana first. Especially the first-floor bathroom. Ugh.

cowboy 9 years, 2 months ago

It would create a lot of work for those of us in the construction business but will drive the property owners bats. I'm for this ordinance but having dealt with the city red tape it's gonna be interesting to see the impacts if a true inspection is done. Gonna be a lot of demolition permits needed.

workinghard 9 years, 2 months ago

Maybe rentals with out of town owners should be licensed and inspected since obviously they cannot check on the property regularly. I'm not sure some of the property management companies can be counted on to make sure they are kept in good condition unless maybe there is an on site manager.

feeble 9 years, 2 months ago

i can vividly recall looking at a place to rent about 7 years ago that had cloth-wrapped wires visible through crumbling dry wall and a circuit breaker older than my grandfather this was in the middle of Oread. Can you say fire trap? I elected to stay in my drafty attic apartment, while some friends rented the other place. They were quite shocked when Sunflower refused to hook up cable as it was deemed a fire hazard.

A lot of the old, electrified homes in Lawrence are in dire need of inspection as many are not compliant with city codes.

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