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.