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Letters to the Editor

Code enforcement

November 3, 2010

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To the editor:

Recently, I contacted the city manager and mayor about a house across the street from my home that was purchased by an investor two years ago. The investor turned it over to his college-aged son who quickly filled it with six college students. The neighborhood code enforcement manager at that time worked with the owner’s agent for several weeks to bring the occupancy of the house into compliance with the single-family dwelling zone that the house occupies.

That was last year. This fall semester brought another influx of six new resident college students, which has been verified by the code enforcer. When I asked this gentleman why the city was not doing something to eliminate this problem, he indicated that under the current ordinance there was little he could do. Both the city manager and mayor so stated as much.

So it appears that we have a law that does not work because there is no way to penalize willful lawbreakers. There have been numerous mentions in the newspaper lately of situations like the above.

I would encourage the City Commission to find an ordinance that works! We need one with real teeth, one that takes away the economic incentive for an unscrupulous landlord to want to break the law. How about a $500 per day fine for habitual offenders and/or 10 days in jail? If we don’t take a pro-active position to this problem, we are wasting our city’s staff time and facilitating the degradation of our neighborhoods.

Bob Schumm,

Lawrence

Comments

ssakcaj 4 years, 1 month ago

Yeah, maybe you could run for office and get that changed...

SeaFox 4 years, 1 month ago

You are aware who Bob Schumm is right? He probably could.

commuter 4 years, 1 month ago

Maybe we should not just fine the landlord but the tenants as well. I find it funny that people only blame the landlord and give the tenant a free pass. Maybe we should take that view on drugs, buying drugs is ok and you will not get punished but selling them is bad and you will get punished.

jafs 4 years, 1 month ago

The code is almost certainly a code prohibiting property owners from renting to more than 3 unrelated individuals.

It is not a crime for the tenants who live there.

just_another_bozo_on_this_bus 4 years, 1 month ago

"Maybe we should not just fine the landlord but the tenants as well. I find it funny that people only blame the landlord and give the tenant a free pass."

The tenants, most of them students who have just arrived here, are unaware of the zoning of the house or the zoning laws of Lawrence. Holding the landlord responsible is entirely appropriate.

madameX 4 years, 1 month ago

Yeah, but how hard would it be for the landlord to say "I'm renting to the three of you because that's all the city will let me rent to, if you have more than the three of you living here and the city finds out you might be fined." If they're smart enough to go to college they're smart enough to understand zoning laws.

monkeyhawk 4 years, 1 month ago

Even if it is written in the rental agreement, people of that age do not care and do not believe they have to suffer any consequences. They will do what they want. I experienced that first hand and determined that Lawrence, Ks. is a horrible place to own rental property (unless you rent it during student off season to professional adults who commute out of town), because you get the shaft from both sides - the city and the immature renters.

jafs 4 years, 1 month ago

It's also a difficult place to find a decent place to rent, if you're responsible and want a good landlord.

monkeyhawk 4 years, 1 month ago

Wish you were my tenant.. Most of them were very pleased. I did everything they wanted within reason and even gave them Christmas presents. I got lucky 87% of the time with some great people, but all it takes is one rotten bunch.

jafs 4 years, 1 month ago

Thanks.

I think we're done renting in Lawrence.

But over the years, we only had one good landlord, and a number of bad ones.

just_another_bozo_on_this_bus 4 years, 1 month ago

If it's a girlfriend sleeping over, or a friend visiting from out-of-town sleeping on the couch, that doesn't violate the zoning restrictions.

But if there really are six people living in house zoned for three, any responsible landlord would know it, and move to correct it.

monkeyhawk 4 years, 1 month ago

"But if there really are six people living in house zoned for three, any responsible landlord would know it, and move to correct it."

Right... we all know that the property owner can crash in on the tenants any time they want. (sarcasm, in case you don't recognize it.) From what I recall, the property manager is required by law to give 24 hours notice before entering unless there is an emergency. That is plenty of time for the tenant to do whatever he/she needs to do to cover up any wrongdoings. Then, I'm sure you are aware of what one must go through to initiate and carry through eviction procedures..

jafs 4 years, 1 month ago

Actually, many landlords don't give 24 hours notice - one of the ways in which they're not good, in my experience.

It's possible that some landlords aren't aware of these issues, but the story in the paper recently about one of them showed she was completely aware of it, and got the tenants to leave, cleaned up evidence of it, etc. before the city came to inspect.

Shouldn't she face fines and consequences for that?

imastinker 4 years, 1 month ago

I didn't really believe all that story.

Landlords aren't required to give 24 hours if they are coming for a maintenance request.

monkeyhawk 4 years, 1 month ago

What part of this did you not get?

"...24 hours notice before entering unless there is an emergency."

"CAN THE LANDLORD JUST WALK IN? Even though the landlord is the owner of the rental property, the landlord or designated agent cannot legally enter the premises without first giving the tenant reasonable notice and then entering only at reasonable hours. The landlord does have the right to enter to make inspections, agreed or necessary repairs or alterations, or to show the property to workmen, buyers, or prospective tenants. In an emergency situation, the landlord may enter without permission to prevent loss of life or severe property damage. If the tenant is absent for more than 30 days without prior notice, the landlord can enter the unit. The landlord cannot abuse the right of access or use it to harass a tenant. The tenant cannot unreasonably refuse access." http://www.kshousingcorp.org/display/files/FairHousing/TLL%20FAQ.pdf

cayenne1992 4 years, 1 month ago

request would be the difference there.

monkeyhawk 4 years, 1 month ago

Absolutely. I take umbrage with the way regulations are enforced in this city. The laws don't apply equally and usually they are to the benefit of certain individuals. It is best just not to do business in Lawrence and ultimately not to even live there.

just_another_bozo_on_this_bus 4 years, 1 month ago

It might be possible to conceal the fact that 4 people are living in a house rented to only three people, but not 6 people-- (unless you'd just prefer not to know.)

And evicting someone who is not a contractually agreed upon resident, especially if they violate zoning restrictions, is not a difficult thing to do.

dinoman 4 years, 1 month ago

i would just like to say that this problem is city wide... and by the way even if the teeth are put back in a law we then must face the problem of enforcement. city wide... and then the courts get overwhelmed and then zoneing gets overwhelmed by landloards who have money trying to get their zoning changed and so forth ... i say unfortunatly get used to it... you live in a college town there for rooms will always go for a premium.. in this day and age cheeper the better... and yes if their is a problem with trash or noise or parking those are all inforceable offences... but number of people living there is a much harder problem.. and yes i cant even remodel a house without a permit that states exactly how many bedrooms and the usage of said space including the fact that each bedroom must have at least one and a half parking spaces .. so address that issue.. its easier to enforce.. its easier to get along than to fight all the time...

jafs 4 years, 1 month ago

Why is it hard to enforce?

According to the LTE, the code enforcement folks know that there are more people living there than is permitted.

How is it written so that the city can't do anything? That's absurd.

Immediate fines, increasing with occurrence, and resulting in the prohibition for owners to own rental properties in town might get the landlords' attention.

justforfun 4 years, 1 month ago

AWWW screw it!! put on the next ballet fot 6 new inspectors. Raise the mill 4 and call it good you know Lawrence will vote for it. It would only raise taxes on a home valued at $170000 about $79 a year. What a deal in the intrest of public safety. HAHA

What's that I hear those without rentals love it and those with don't??? Yep, just like those of us that don't ride the bus and don't use the library well pay so those who do have a luxury in life.

christy kennedy 4 years, 1 month ago

"an ordinance that works" YES, please—one that protects tenants and benefits good landlords. The three person limit (or four) can't be applied fairly between houses with 4-5 bedrooms and ample parking and the two bedroom bungalow down the block, or between two large houses when one is divided into two units. If that issue can be addressed fairly and with common sense, then there's no excuse to not inspect and enforce codes.

There are party houses in our neighborhood that the city knows about where 6-7 or more people live. Greater concerns for me than exactly how many people live in a house are the massive parties, yards full of cars and trash, the landlord's blatant disregard for codes and neighbors, and the city's seeming inability to do anything about any of it.

hipper_than_hip 4 years, 1 month ago

The landlords know how many people they're renting to, and they should be held accountable. If the occupancy laws aren't being enforced, it's because the planning dept doesn't want them enforced. The buck should start and stop with Scott McCullough - if the zoning regs aren't being enforced, then replace McCullough.

kernal 4 years, 1 month ago

Used to be insurance companies wouldn't cover residential rental properties if the square footage of the building was insufficient for the number of people living in the residence, Then there are the fire codes.

cozy 4 years, 1 month ago

Not talking specifically about the little rich boy and Co...

MAYBE if rent wasn't so high, people wouldn't need so many people to try to afford rent. College students, god forbid, have to work and usually part time and have to try to afford the high cost of rent here. (No, I do not work part time and I live in an overpriced-for-what-I-have-to-put-up-with townhome.)

Zachary Stoltenberg 4 years, 1 month ago

MAYBE if students stopped voting for every stupid tax increase (i.e. the library and the EmpTy bus) then the landlords wouldn't have to raise the rent soo high.

jafs 4 years, 1 month ago

Any evidence that students are participating in any significant way in our elections?

Most that I have spoken with are not politically aware and don't do so.

Katara 4 years, 1 month ago

I'd like to see that evidence too because I keep reading other people posting that students are one of reasons taxes go up (i.e. they vote for them & then leave because it supposedly has no impact on them) but I have yet to see anyone actually show it actually happening.

College students really don't get fired up over local elections.

cozy 4 years, 1 month ago

Boo hoo. These people charge ridiculous amounts for what they are renting out. They can afford an extra couple hundred.

Charles L Bloss Jr 4 years, 1 month ago

I agree Bob, run for city commissioner. You would be a great asset. Thank you, Lynn

beaujackson 4 years, 1 month ago

The 1965 city comm. ordinance changed Single Family *(SF) neighborhood zoning to allow renting to students. By 1990 it became apparent this was destroying central Lawrence neighborhoods desirability for family home ownership because it changed the value of homes to favor the "business" of rentals to unrelated people (students). Student rentals also destroyed several neighborhood schools because families with children simply moved away because (what should have been) starter housing was overpriced.

Around 1992 the city commission passed an ordinance limiting unrelated renters in SF zoning to three (3) as a "compromise", instead of the requested two (2).

Landlords ignore the current ordinance because there is no penalty.

Mr. Schumm is correct in suggesting the penalty be $500.00 per day for infractions.

The city comm. has an obligation to Lawrence homeowners to put some real "teeth" into this ordinance ASAP.

Finally, the city comm. should reduce the number of unrelated renters to two (2) in SF zoned neighborhoods in order to restore them for family use.

melott 4 years, 1 month ago

Since there is a lot of money to be made by renting out house in single-family zoned neighborhoods, it is unlikely that the city commission will ever do anything to make this enforceable.

Randall Barnes 4 years, 1 month ago

former mayor schumm you should run again and be in the mix with amyx.then maby you can deal with compton as well.

he_who_knows_all 4 years, 1 month ago

Compton's been on the commision before. Maybe he'll run again too.

beaujackson 4 years, 1 month ago

Melott is right - "Money Talks".

Over 6,000 rentals in SF zones probably bring in OVER $7,000,000.00 (that's 7 million) EACH MONTH.

Could that be part of the reason why the city comm. doesn't require the city to enforce the ordinance?

Surely not.

Richard Heckler 4 years, 1 month ago

Putting teeth in this law might impact some commissioners or close friends. Sadly it would also impact those 4,5 or six people who live together but do not create problems for their neighborhoods.

I would say support the request of Bob Schumm. It is my guess that 99% of tax paying citizens would appreciate strong enforcement of troubled houses.

My other suggestion is bring on 4 new inspectors to keep up with demand. As of now and always it has been a skeleton crew = one more tool to escape enforcing the ordinance.

Richard Heckler 4 years, 1 month ago

How many inspectors work in this office specifically for this purpose?

Rumor has it that the city has not enough inspectors to meet demand.

pace 4 years, 1 month ago

It is a stupid rule. They should at least amend it to allow three unrelated people to rent a house together, Exceptions should be geared to homes of more than three bedrooms. It sticks it to everyone that doesn't fit in the Beaver Ward world view. At least they should make it reasonable.

jafs 4 years, 1 month ago

3 unrelated people can rent together.

More than that are not allowed to do so.

cozy 4 years, 1 month ago

Should be more than 4. 2 Couples should be allowed to peacefully rent a place if they like.

jafs 4 years, 1 month ago

And, that's only the case in neighborhoods that are zoned "single family".

beaujackson 4 years, 1 month ago

  1. The reason for dilapidated central Lawrence housing is BECAUSE THEY ARE RENTALS. Owner occupied housing is usually well kept.

  2. If the fine for non-compliance of the rental ordinance is $500.00 per day, only ONE inspector can do the job. Compliance will be swift after the first fine.

  3. A substantial penalty for non compliance is long overdue, and will instantly solve the problem.

kernal 4 years, 1 month ago

Hey, City Building Inspector. Why hasn't that house on the SW corner of Oak Hill and Elmwood been condemned? That is not a habitable dwelling and doesn't look like anyone has lived there for at least five years, if not ten.

BigPrune 4 years, 1 month ago

Will Bob Schumm will be running for office in the near future? He's had what, 3 letters to the editor in the paper lately?

I have a hunch he'll be trying to run again. All we need now is Nalbandian, Rundle, and the lady who looked she ate lots of corn (can't remember her name) snort, snort, and we might as well kiss this town goodbye for good.

Katara 4 years, 1 month ago

It is very funny to see people wanting an ordinance/or code to have more teeth because, come this winter, people are going to be whining about how an ordinance/or code shouldn't have so many teeth.

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