City commissioners balked at an idea to create a new rental registration program that would require all rental property at least 50 years old to be inspected once every three years.
But the seeds of a new idea that could require all rental property in the city — regardless of age — at least to register with the city began to grow.
At their weekly meeting, a majority of commissioners said they were concerned about the projected startup cost for a staff-developed program that would inspect rental property that is at least 50 years old for health and safety code violations at least once every three years. Startup costs have been estimated to be about $150,000 and would require the hiring of three new city employees at a time when the city is contemplating large budget cuts elsewhere.
“If we are creating new jobs at City Hall while laying off other employees, I don’t know how we reconcile that with the public,” Mayor Mike Dever said.
Instead, Dever said he would like to explore ways to allow the city to have the right to do more rental inspections, but not necessarily mandate them. The idea he asked staff members to study would involve all rental units in the city registering with the city and paying an undetermined fee. The registration process would give the city the right to enter a rental unit to inspect it.
But unlike the previous proposal, the city would not promise to inspect every unit on a set schedule. Instead, tenants, neighbors or other community members could turn a property in for an inspection. The city also could do random inspections of property.
Such a program, which other commissioners agreed to have staff study, would be a significant expansion over what the city does currently. Today, only rental properties that are in single-family homes are required to register with the city. They are inspected once every three years.
Tenants in apartments or other nonsingle-family rentals can request a city inspection under state law. Neighbors technically can request the city to inspect a unit that they believe is out of compliance with city codes, but the property owner can refuse the city entry into the unit. The city then has to show a court probable cause for a search warrant. If all rental units were registered, owners would have less ability to refuse entry to a city inspector.
Residents of the Oread Neighborhood and other neighborhoods with large amounts of rentals urged the city to do something, saying that there were clear safety issues and that rundown houses were making neighborhoods less livable.
“The argument that we don’t have enough staff, that we don’t have enough money, is negligent,” said Tom Harper, a resident of Centennial Neighborhood. “That just makes me angry to hear. We have to do something.”
Candice Davis, an Oread Neighborhood leader who had lobbied for rental registration, said she wanted to hear more about Dever’s idea.
“I like the idea of all landlords in the city registering their properties,” Davis said. “I think that is the way it should be.”
Representatives for several of the newer apartment complexes in Lawrence previously have urged city commissioners not to include newer rental units in any licensing system. They said newer units were built to more advanced building codes and were thoroughly inspected at the time of construction.
Staff members said they would study the issue and bring back a report at a later date.
In other business, commissioners:
• Agreed to forward to the Historic Resources Commission a request from Lawrence Freenet to install wireless devices on city light poles to provide wireless Internet service in the area. Commissioners did so on a 4-1 vote with Commissioner Rob Chestnut voting against.
• Approved various text amendments to the Downtown Design Guidelines to make the plan more readable and to incorporate the city’s new sidewalk dining and hospitality regulations.
• Gave preliminary approval to a rezoning for an office building for the Kansas Family and Children Foundation at 2141 Maple Lane.
• Gave preliminary approval to a rezoning of the Second Christian Church of Lawrence, 1245 Conn., to be converted into a mortuary.
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