Archive for Sunday, July 12, 2009

City moves to enforce tenant limits

Too many renters in certain homes a code violation

July 12, 2009


Oh yeah, roommates can be a lot of trouble — especially if you have too many of them.

As the pace of rental season in Lawrence picks up, city leaders are working to remind potential renters of a city law that prohibits more than three unrelated people from living in a single-family home.

“This is an ordinance that can affect you in a different way than a lot of ordinances,” said Brian Jimen-ez, the city’s code en-forcement manager. “If you violate this ordinance, we can force you to move.”

And despite a popular perception to the contrary, Jimenez said the city does enforce the law and require some renters to move before their leases are up. Since 2007, the city has investigated 52 complaints of housing occupancy violations. Jimenez said that in about 50 percent to 60 percent of those cases, the city found too many people living at a residence.

Although the city occasionally will let the violation persist if there are only a few weeks left on a lease, increasingly the city is forcing at least one of the tenants to move.

“We have compassion as much as the next person regarding that, but most of the time we really don’t have any other option,” Jimenez said.

The ordinance came about after residents in several neighborhoods surrounding Kansas University complained that single-family homes were being converted to rentals that often housed large numbers of people. The rental houses often created problems in terms of neighborhood parking, trash and noise issues, residents said.

Neighborhood leaders said the city has made some progress on the issue, but there are still concerns about landlords who ignore the law.

“I would call it mixed success,” said Tom Harper, a member of the Centennial Neighborhood Association. “There’s some landlords who I think just ignore it. When they do, it seems like all the city can do is send them a letter.”

Proving violations in court has been difficult for the city. Jimenez said most of the cases involving people being forced to move have come about after residents or the landlords admitted that they were unaware of the law and then voluntary took steps to comply. Jimenez said the city has not taken a case to court in recent memory.

“Our goal is always voluntary compliance,” he said.

The city did take a case to Municipal Court in 2003, but lost after the judge said the city did not meet a high enough standard of proof. Simply showing evidence that there are frequently more than three cars parked at a residence, for example, is not enough to gain a conviction, the case found.

But Jimenez said the city won’t hesitate to take a case to court if prosecutors have enough evidence. He said, though, the city is hoping to increase awareness of the ordinance in order to prevent violations from occurring.


Jennifer Dropkin 8 years, 10 months ago

There's no problem with more than three unrelated people living together as long as (1) they don't each need their own car and (2) they are considerate. Parking-lot party houses are indeed undesirable neighbors.

However, and much more to the point, the city has allowed huge new apartment complexes to be built in a town that already has too many apartments to fill. How else will the unneeded vacant apartments be filled unless the number of people in rented single-family housing is limited?

monkeyhawk 8 years, 10 months ago

L_One - the city certainly does have the power to enforce this. It has been challenged and liberty lost.

I just wonder when the city will collect inspection fees from apartment buildings?

gilly is right, it has always seemed suspicious to me, the reasoning behind this ordinance and the people who benefit. Other than Candy baby, of course.

Zachary Stoltenberg 8 years, 10 months ago

I want to drop a little insight here that the oh so knowledgeable LJ World neglected to mention in the article. This Ordinance has much less to do with neighbors complaining and a whole lot more to do with public safety. The IBC nad IRC, the building codes that the City of Lawrence has adopted to govern it's building and construction have very specific requirements when it comes to group living. Gilly, your right, the city is throwing up apartments like their strip mining. But these apartments meet code. They have fire separation, sprinklers, parking, lighting, landscaping, everything the city asks for, these developers have met. That's why they are building them. The problem comes when you create a group living environment in a building not designed to support it. You can in fact have more than four unrelated persons living together in a single residential house, but you must classify it as a boarding house, and you have to meet all the same requirements as those apartments Gilly ranted about. This means your residential house up on Oread must have a sprinkler system, egress rated windows in all bedrooms, adequate hallway and interior egress routes, you must have a full commercial site plan on file with the city that includes a full photometric study, downstream sewer study, parking, landscaping, screening, the works. But that process is expensive, time consuming, and the city is often difficult to work with. Simply stated, the slum lords on Oread don't want to pay to do things by the book. This is only further compounded by the problem of Historical Resources. Most of these properties are located inside of historic neighborhoods which means that any changes an owner wants to make to a property in order to make it comply must be approved by the HRC first. Guess how smooth that process is. I'll give you a hint, this is where you have to deal with all the neighbors complaining about another group living situation. Not exactly the right venue but, to their credit, in my experiences with the HRC they have not refused a project based on complaints of group living, they really do try to stick with the historic concerns. But the process gets muddled and slowed down by angry neighbors choosing the wrong way to go about fighting the developers.

Zachary Stoltenberg 8 years, 10 months ago

There are, however, developers moving into that neighborhood who are doing things right. Go drive down Ohio street between eighth and tenth. Go look at every Greek house around the university. The single biggest problem with the current ordinances is selective enforcement. Why should one person go through the lengthy and expensive process the city has established to operate their property within the boundaries of the law as a boarding house when the guy next door has deliberately circumvented the city and operates illegally. In my humble opinion, enforcing full commercial requirements on every property with more than four tenants would help to eliminate the slum lords. If you can afford to get through that process, you can afford to take care of your property. Don't even get me started on registering rental property, that's a WHOLE different problem with the city. My point is, these laws exist to protect the safety of the occupants. That's why they won't let the Homeless shelter increase their occupancy, there's no means of egress and no fire sprinklers. If you play by the rules and meet the requirements the city has established, you shouldn't have any problem with the laws the way they currently stand. As I stated before, enforcement could be better, and the city could make it a more timely and efficient process, but there's nothing wrong with the law.

parrothead8 8 years, 10 months ago

What does a landlord care if the city forces one person out of his/her property? S/he is still going to get the rent from the tenants who remain.

If the ordinance fined the landlords instead of simply forcing a renter to move, I bet landlords would be much more attentive to what was going on at their properties.

Pat Long 8 years, 10 months ago

A former president of the Lawrence Board of Realtors owns a house on my block. When Mr. Jimenez notified him of the complaint, he just had the 2 basement tenants move their belongings out of line of sight. Wish I could say it was the kids, but it's the professional who lives in Alvamar that's the problem.

LadyJ 8 years, 10 months ago

So if I read it correct, a single parent with two kids in a single family residence neighborhood cannot have a live-in boyfriend or girlfriend. Likewise a friend of their child's that has gotten kicked out of their parent's house cannot move in with them. So all cohabiting couples with more than one child cannot live in single family zone. I suggest these people make sure they do not make their neighbors mad or get married. I wonder if any of the people who pushed for this law have broken it themselves.

jumpin_catfish 8 years, 10 months ago

gilly is correct, this rule came into effect and then the number of new apartments (clinton parkway and 31st street to name two) has explored in this town. One of the LJW"s crack reporters should dig the dirt on this subject but it doubt that happens. Does anyone know the current capacity and occupancy rate for Lawrence apartment complexes?

LadyJ 8 years, 10 months ago

Does this law discriminate against gay couples with kids since they cannot legally marry in Kansas?

InspectorJo 8 years, 10 months ago

parrothead8 is on the right track, the landlords should be the ones fined for allowing too many people. They need to be held accountable for their actions too.

Jennifer Dropkin 8 years, 10 months ago

I'd like to thank zsoltenberg for those reasoned points.

I didn't know that boarding houses were still possible in the city. They are unfortunately passe. Don't boarding houses require the presence of the owner or supervisor? Don't they provide room and board? I think that they are a good idea: instead of college students, as newly minted adults on their own, living completely at the whims of their callow judgment in apartments and houses, they could--in theory--live in a boarding-house environment with at least recourse to a presumed adult in the house. Much more reasonable than what goes on with so many students now.

As for the slumlords of Lawrence, they have benefited for a long time from the insufficient tenant ordinance in Kansas generally and Lawrence particularly. The city has too often let itself off the hook for enforcement by relying on residents to complain. Some of us are more willing to complain to the city than others, but I think most of us want to get through the day without exposing ourselves to increased hassle.

Selective enforcement isn't a good way of maintaining decent, up-to-code housing stock in Lawrence.

LadyJ 8 years, 10 months ago

If the illegal tenant is not on the lease the city would have to prove the landlord knew, also the tenants could claim the person is not living there. If the illegal tenant can get someone, like a parent or friend to say they live with them it would be very hard to prove, and believe me, it happens.

lounger 8 years, 10 months ago

Talk about a waste of time! This ordinance is broken on every other block in Lawrence! Come on be serious city hall. Concentrate on something that is going to better us as a community not divide us. In hard times people have to live together regardless of family ties. After a while a lot of people develop a family bond with their friends-Isnt that good enough?

Victor Dawson 8 years, 10 months ago

In my opinion, another wasteful government program/enforcement. Just a reminder that this is a college town whether people want it to be or not. Meaning, there are going to be parties all over the place whether there are 2 people or 6 people living in the dwelling. I am having a hard time getting my head around the so-called "public safety" argument. I think it ia more of a public safety issue to have all of these mega apartment complex with tons of people in them having these parties. Back to the college town point, sometimes we have multiple people living in these single family houses because it is affordable. What is being done to enforce affordable housing in this town? There are bigger fish to fry (I must be hungry)!!!

Zachary Stoltenberg 8 years, 10 months ago

No, Lady J, You don't understand. The number only applies to unrelated persons. A family with children does not apply in this situation. I think we could debate the number four till kingdom come, the city just has to assign a number and four is what they set it at. It means four unrelated persons, that means four people that have no relationship to one another. I don't know how they look at couples in a committed relationship but that sounds like a family to me and that would meet the exception. Gilly, it's not what you understand as a boarding house either, that's just the classification. Really it means a house with more than four bedrooms that share a common living,dining, kitchen space. But you ALL missed my point. Stop complaining about students, Rez4Prez made a good point, this is a college town. If you don't like the students, then move. Rez, you missed the point with apartments. The apartments meet code and meet the city requirements. To operate a rental house with more than 4 bedrooms (boarding house) the city basically treats it the same as the apartments as far as requirements. Many of the big rental houses, like the ones along Tennessee and Kentucky, don't meet code, don't have sprinkler systems, etc. and simply aren't safe for a large group of people to live in. The rule of law as established is designed to make these large rental properties meet code, just like an apartment. And stop complaining about all the new apartments, if people weren't renting them, if there wasn't a need for additional rental space, then they wouldn't be profitable and people wouldn't be building them. Perhaps if the extreme liberal left didn't keep voting to increase taxes to fund every public assistance program known to man more people could afford to live and own a home in Lawrence. With the levee as it stands know, the values and property taxes in Lawrence make it impossible for many people to buy, therefore they have to rent. Don't complain about building apartments if you voted to keep the T or expand the homeless shelter, or any of these useless programs that cost everyone in Lawrence and benefit only a select few.

mdrndgtl 8 years, 10 months ago

This ordinance is targeted at gardeners and such, if you know what I mean. Racist...

notjustastudent 8 years, 10 months ago


In all situations you mentioned (live in boyfriend, child's friend, married, and gay couple) the ordinance would not apply. It has to be M.O.R.E than three unrelated people, not three people one of which is unrelated, or one person unrelated to three indivuals there, or however else you read it. The single mother and her kids are related, so the only unrelated person would be the live-in boyfriend. If they got married, they would then be related. If a child moved into a friends house they would be the only unrelated person living there. If the child moved into a friends house with a live-in boyfriend/girlfriend, still it would be fine because there wouldn't be more than three unrelated individuals in one dwelling. In the case of the gay couple, one individual would be the legal guardian of the children, so only the partner would be unrelated by law. You need to slow down a bit, read a little more closely, and think before you post.

A good example is your later post about illegal tenants saying they live somewhere else, and it being hard to prove otherwise. Very true, it's part of the problem with bringing the landlords to court, and the reason why it is easier to ask the tenant to move instead.

igby 8 years, 10 months ago

The city screwed all the owners of these big Victorian houses in the Oread district. The city did not notify all or any property owners that it was changing the historical zoning in the Oread district from residential dormitory to this new zoning classification. The Oread district was resident-dormitory since it's inception. The Planning department teamed up with the ONA and secretly slipped this new zoning code by city hall and got it passed with out telling any property owners that the city had just reduced the potential value of their income producing property to nothing. It would not shock me if several of these people behind this plan were all ONA members the same bunch that allowed and supported Fritzel's mammoth hotel.

The zoning of these houses are just as much a factor in their historical classification as the structures themselves. If they were multi-unit historically then changing the rules to only allow 4 unrelated people live there is in violation of the historical state of the property.

An eight bedroom house will have four bedrooms empty causing a great loss to the property owner. This is cause for a class action law suit.

If your bank loan money on the property as it was residential dorm zoned and then the city changes the zoning causing a direct loss of property values. The rental income method was used to determine the value of the property. Now the city has reduced its income producing ability and cut it in half.

The change was illegal and it destroyed the resale value of all the properties that were residential dorm zoned.

LadyJ 8 years, 10 months ago

zstoltenberg--in the newspaper this morning there was a side article in the article called "By the numbers" and in it is a quote "Jimenez said anytime four people are living in a single-family home, all four must be related". It also states the limits apply not only to renters, but also cover people who own their homes and allow unrelated people to stay with them, so you can see how I came to my conclusions. Did you see that article?

Markstaff 8 years, 10 months ago

"And stop complaining about all the new apartments, if people weren't renting them, if there wasn't a need for additional rental space, then they wouldn't be profitable and people wouldn't be building them." And I have some ocean front property in Arizona I'd let go real cheap.

igby 8 years, 10 months ago

Another slip of the planning department and their recommendations to the CC's was in the development of the Oread Inn in spite of the full dissent of the historical commission and the majority of the residential property owners.

The underground parking levels at the Oread Inn site was to handle 200 plus parking spaces. The plan was changed later too make the lower level a dance club/bar. The parking spaces were determined based on the planning departments recommendation regarding the number of hotel/condo units that were stated in the plan. The planning department fail to consider the 200 plus employees that the hotel would require additional parking spaces. The planning department realized this fallacy and shortly after slipped the new zoning changes into the Oread district without notifying any residential property owners that they had made error in the Oread Inns parking projections. By doing this re-zoning scam they would project the parking around and about the 4 block area of the in to open up several hundred on street parking spaces. These spaces were estimated to be made available by this new zoning requirement that would restrict all these Big Victorian House to a minimum of 4 renters per house which opens up considerable on street parking.

The corruption in this planning office runs deep. They have been paid off by the developers of the Oread Inn to basically destroy the property values in the Oread District.

Where are the employees of this Oread Inn going to park? In the street in front of your house after the CC's and the planning office screwed the Victorian Home Owners out of their properties value, rental income potential and on street parking.

All these Victorian Property owners need to organize and hire a Law firm to go after the planning department, CC's and the developers of this Oread Inn. We need to be pail for our lost values in property, Lost rents in the restrictive rental changes and the loss of our on street parking because the planning department failed to consider the 200 hotel employees parking needs when they approved this Inn and it's below ground parking limits.

maybeso 8 years, 10 months ago

Yes it's a college town, but that means more than just students. Those grownups employed by the university and other industries, paying taxes and powering our local economy- such as it is :/ - also need a neighborhood to raise a family in, hopefully with enough concentration of kids to fill a neighborhood school. Breaking up these single family homes into multiple units brings in more $$$ for the landlord, but it can destroy a house and lot in short order, or sometimes in a slow withering decline. And those neighborhoods don't return to habitable areas for families. There is no reason to turn the entire area around the U. into a slum. Save the single family neighborhoods we have left near the center of town.

nut_case 8 years, 10 months ago

Sort of funny to see all the brew-ha-ha over 3 unrelated people living together. I think the houses all around me each have about 7-10 related people living there...of course all of them their own junk car (or two), people sleeping in converted garages, travel trailers, two or three to a bedroom. Plus, every house has to have 3-4 mangy dogs running around the yard barking all hours of day and night...god, I love the city.

flyin_squirrel 8 years, 10 months ago

If the bottom floor was turned into a dance club, where are all those patrons going to park? Hotel guests, Condo owners, staff, restaurant patrons, and dance club patrons all crammed into the Oread... Sounds like a reciepe for disaster.

UlyssesPro 8 years, 10 months ago

This is just another example of an overextending city authority. The city comes in and tells you how to operative your private property under the guise of safety. If a family of 6 isn't a fire hazard, a group of 4 students isn't either.

Let the landlords and the tenants work it out in the lease.

Alexander Neighbors 8 years, 10 months ago

there are no civil liberties or rights for the people of lawrence, just look at whats going on to the yellow house store owners..... (big nasty mess thanks to no city oversight)

Carol Bowen 8 years, 10 months ago

maybeso has a good point. In fact, this is why Lawrence has the rental house ordinance. I remember the city commission listening to landlord after landlord say that they could not make a profit if they did not rent to students. (I assume this means that students pay more for their housing than a family. Isn't that discrimination?)

Not only are single family neighborhoods disrupted by student rentals, but those homes are not available to families. If a landlord can get $1500/mo. from students, why would s/he want $900 from a family? The students run down the homes, and the quality of the neighborhood and its house values decline. What really gets me is when a wealthy parent buys a house for their college kid and friends in affordable neighborhoods. It may be an investment for them, but it's a problem for us.

There are ordinances regarding trash, noise, etc. The police are very good about following through when they receive a complaint. There are not enough city staff to follow through on the code violations, however. That's probably why there are so many transgressions.

KU has carefully avoided responsibility for housing students even though their stance severely limits the stock of affordable housing in Lawrence. Most universities have a higher percentage of students living on campus. KU could have contracted the development on 31st Street and had it built on campus. KU and landlords need to be held more accountable. If the landlord has multiple rentals, it is a business. (I doubt they claim the rent as personal income.) Businesses are not allowed in single family neighborhoods ... except for the landlord business. I think the ordinance could be more restrictive.

been_there 8 years, 10 months ago

After LadyJ's last comment I went back and read the article. She is right, in the article "By the numbers" Jimenez says "all four must be related", so unless he was quoted wrong that is the law not only for renters, but home owners as well.

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