Archive for Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Lawrence leaders want to crack down on ‘unscrupulous’ landlords

June 22, 2011


City commissioners on Tuesday said they want to get significantly tougher on landlords who illegally allow too many people to live in rental housing, perhaps imposing even $100 to $500 per day fines.

Commissioners unanimously directed the city’s planning and development services staff to put together a plan that would create stiffer penalties for landlords who rent to more than three unrelated people in single family homes or more than four in multifamily zoned properties.

“This is an economic situation, and you have to turn the economics inside out on the perpetrator,” City Commissioner Bob Schumm said. “These landlords aren’t doing this because they don’t know any better. You’ve got to make it so they are losing money on this.”

Thus far, landlords aren’t paying much in the way of fines in Lawrence. The city confirmed it has had only one case that has gone through the process to the point that Municipal Court levied a fine. And that fine ended up being only about $100 total, city officials said.

Scott McCullough, director of the city’s planning and development services department, said that is because the city usually does not pursue fines if a landlord agrees to comply with the regulations. But that mindset may be changing.

He said Fort Collins, Colo., has adopted a policy that requires its city officials to pursue a fine regardless of whether the landlord reduces the tenant levels and promises to comply in the future. Fort Collins has a $1,000 fine. The city’s fine provision currently is written in a way that allows for it to be as low as $10 or as much as $500.

City commissioners said Lawrence may want to consider a policy similar to Fort Collins’ because there’s evidence some landlords come into compliance and then over-rent the unit again. According to the city’s figures, 22 percent of the over-occupancy cases the city has investigated since 2005 involved eight property owners.

Commissioners heard from several members of the public who urged them to stiffen the regulations.

“We’re being infested in residential neighborhoods by unscrupulous landlords who are just packing these houses,” said George Catt, who told of a $350,000 home on the Alvamar Golf Course that now was a rental to at least seven young tenants. “It is incumbent for the commission to address this problem.”

In addition to tougher fines, the report will explore several other options. They include:

• Requiring both landlords and tenants to sign a notarized “disclosure statement” at the time of the lease or sale of the property that spells out how many unrelated people legally can live at a location.

• A provision that would allow the city to revoke the rental license of a landlord who habitually violates the occupancy provisions. Currently, landlords who rent homes in single-family neighborhoods are required to register the properties and undergo a periodic inspection.

• Adding language to the code that more clearly defines what constitutes a resident. Some commissioners suggested that resident be defined as anyone who lives at a location for 30 or more days. Adding a more specific definition could help the city prosecute cases in the future.

McCullough didn’t offer a timeline to deliver his report to the commission, but it is expected to take several weeks to complete.


riverdrifter 6 years, 11 months ago

First! Good!

Oh hell, I don't live in Lawrence.


guess_again 6 years, 11 months ago

It is interesting that a violation in the Alvamar is what triggered a real response.

This stuff has been going on in the Oread neighborhood for years, and the city commission has been ignoring it....

Adrienne Sanders 6 years, 11 months ago

If by "interesting" you mean eye-rollingly blatantly biased in favor of the rich folks in West Lawrence and otherwise not giving a crap what conditions students live in, yeah, it's interesting all right.

woodscolt 6 years, 11 months ago

Unscrupulous landlords are good business for the city. They pay more property tax than tenants do. At least that is how the city looks at it. Never-mind the tenants pay the property tax in rent or abatements to rent. Landlords always want to make an issue out of the bad tenants they have to deal with. They parlay this into all tenants are bad. The people who take care of the property and pay their rent on time don't rate any higher with unscrupulous landlords than the few bad tenants they have. It would be nice if the city would level the playing field but I doubt it.. We shall see.

LadyJ 6 years, 11 months ago

Just forget about the houses that are chopped up into one room "studios" that are death traps. The single family homes are probably much safer. Penalize the tenants who sneak in more roommates, which is done all over town.

Paul R Getto 6 years, 11 months ago

Without 'unscrupulous' landlords, where will all the students live?

Amy Heeter 6 years, 11 months ago

How many new inspectors will our city need to hire to make it look like they are doing something? Are they only talking about units west of Iowa st. Or will those who install a toilet in a garage then call it a studio also be included.

Matthew Herbert 6 years, 11 months ago

As if Doug Compton didnt' run the town already. Now, right as Doug is finishing up his latest batch of cardboard apartments, the city decides to crack down on those who provide actual houses to renters. I wonder if the supply/demand curve on apartments finally turned the corner on Doug.

BigPrune 6 years, 11 months ago

Why not enforce where the property is zoned? single family zoning means single family zoning, not 3 unrelated people cohabitating. Seems like a no brainer turned into a complicated mess. It will also protect the people they aim to protect, the bigtime apartment building on every corner developer.

BruceWayne 6 years, 11 months ago

how is it Doug was allowed to "hang" his new project onto the side of the city parking garage? Has anyone else noticed that?

just_another_bozo_on_this_bus 6 years, 11 months ago

Apparently there are no requirements of a setback from lot lines. That's why all of the buildings downtown are built in contact with each other.

sr80 6 years, 11 months ago

It was done so the future rich renters of the apt. complex will have access to their private parking spots in the city garage and also so they (the renters) won't have to deal with the infidels of lawrence !

K_Verses_The_World 6 years, 11 months ago

Dear landlord Please don’t dismiss my case I’m not about to argue I’m not about to move to no other place Now, each of us has his own special gift And you know this was meant to be true And if you don’t underestimate me I won’t underestimate you

cmm889 6 years, 11 months ago

Sometimes this city sucks.

bull$hit tactic to keep students from living in privately rented homes, and flush them into large housing communities such as the reserve, meadowbrook, legends, and potentially new complexs being built downtown.

just more ways for the city to try and profit off the back of the student body at KU.

and for all of the moaning townies of lawrence, get a life. no one cares that you "hate the immature student body with all of their parties, fun, noise"

Keith 6 years, 11 months ago

Unfortunately for you, since we own the property, we do get to herd you into the large housing complexes. Enjoy your years in the ghetto!

cmm889 6 years, 11 months ago

Sorry buddy, I never lived in the student ghetto.

but i've lived in numerous homes around Lawrence and every year there was 3 or 4 of us ( it was the only way rent was ever affordable 325-375 pr person )

we never threw keggers at our place or trashed the neighborhood...

Have fun being a douche.

derpderp 6 years, 10 months ago

Keith that's the biggest load of crap I've heard all day. Just sounds like the ranting of some bitter old man, who's really ticked about not being able to have fun because of the ol' ball and chain.

Richard Payton 6 years, 11 months ago

Most of the city commissioners are landlords that are ruling on this. Is that a conflict of interest?

jhawkinsf 6 years, 11 months ago

If they were renters, wouldn't they have the same conflict of interest. Two sides of the same coin.

jafs 6 years, 11 months ago

They could simply own their own home, and thus have no conflict either way.

kernal 6 years, 11 months ago

Many of those "landlords" are property management firms hired by out of town property owners who have no idea of local zoning and city ordinances for rental properties. Some of those property managers have no idea what's going on with the properties they've rented out, nor do they care. At least a couple of them shouldn't even be in business.

Are we going to fine just the property owners and let the property management firms skate?

jafs 6 years, 11 months ago

My guess is that the responsibility lies with the landlords, since they own the properties.

If they get nailed by the city, maybe they can try to sue the management companies.

zzgoeb 6 years, 11 months ago

The city is on the right track here, and should but "teeth" into it's laws for sure!!! Perhaps a bigger issue it the way that landlords use the street as a "dump" anytime they have a tenant change. No matter what day of the week the trash is to be picked up, the owner cleans the house and puts ALL the junk and trash at the curbside. On my block, and MANY others, this stuff sits in the wind, rain, dog attack, trash-picking zone until the weekly pickup. The city needs to fine the owner for everyday the stuff sits. Lawrence prides itself on "being green" and yet our curbs look like 15th-century London!!! The commission needs to look at this problem, and other homeowners need to report these types of violations to the city.

LadyJ 6 years, 11 months ago

It cost me around $100 for a city dumpster for with 4 days to fill it completely, what a deal. I plan to do this in the future, it was awesome.

guess_again 6 years, 11 months ago

Remember this story? About Serina Hern and her husband Tony Backus..... where they made all the students vacate a house and attempted to hide the entrance to their attic so the inspectors would not see how many students actually lived there? I think this is the conduct that this ordinance is intended to eliminate, which is obviously not happening:

shadowlady 6 years, 11 months ago

Why don't the city put a ceiling on how high rent should be, these unscrupulous landlords, charge as high as they want just because this is a college town, and some rentals just aren't worth, the amount of money. Some landlords will charge almost a thousand dollars for a 3 bedroom, 2 1/2 bath, 2 car garage, while another landlord will charge the same amount for a 3 bedroom, 1 bath, no garage. Alot of the working class single parent households can not afford that kind of rent, and it takes 1 1/2 to 2 years to get on section 8.

Matthew Herbert 6 years, 11 months ago

that's supply and demand. It happens a lot in America, not just in college towns.

unite2revolt 6 years, 11 months ago

Shadowlady the HUD 2011 Fair Market Rent (FMR) in the Lawrence MSA is $1099 for a three bedroom apt. If you found a place that is charging almost a $1000 garage or not you are getting a deal. Right now LDCHA isn't even taking applications for Section 8 because the waiting list is too long (over two years). People who can't afford to live here, should move to Topeka where you can walk in to a subsidized apartment complex, apply , and be approved in less than a week. And there a three bedroom is only $844 FMR. Or shop around Lawrence there are plenty of good places to rent, from decent local landlords, at affordable prices if you have a decent income, credit score, and rental history. Good tenants can practically write their own lease.

Matthew Herbert 6 years, 11 months ago

A general rule of thumb in this town (with obvious exceptions if the location is right on campus) is $300 per bedroom.

LadyJ 6 years, 11 months ago

I see I need to raise my rent by $200, thanks.

madameX 6 years, 11 months ago

I lke how the "unscrupulous" landlords that the city wants to crack down on are those dastardly folks who rent one house to a crowd of students, thereby making life slightly less pleasant for the neighbors in an upscale neighborhood, while loads of slumlords who don't maintain their properties, overcharge, refuse to make major repairs, refuse to return security deposits, etc. apparently get a pass.

pizzapete 6 years, 11 months ago

I think you nailed it..."while loads of slumlords who don't maintain their properties, overcharge, refuse to make major repairs, refuse to return security deposits, etc. apparently get a pass."

derpderp 6 years, 10 months ago

What about law-abiding students who don't make a huge ruckus? What should happen to them?

Skeptical 6 years, 11 months ago

Before Lawrence puts any teeth into the law they might want to address how its written. My friend (partner in large DC law firm, been counsel for the Senate, lectures at DC area law schools, etc.) is I think a pretty decent lawyer. A few years ago I looked at buying a house to rent in Lawrence. I asked my friend to look at the "3 unrelated person" ordinance. He just laughed and said under scrutiny it would be tossed because 3 is an arbritrary number. While certainly something needs to be done on the slumlord side of things, the law could affect a lot of legitimate property owners. It seems like Lawrence is trying to have it both ways - property values driven up by proximity to KU but then the ability to generate revenue curtailed.

llama726 6 years, 11 months ago

This is silly. For one thing, 3 is an arbitrary number. Why not allow 4 or 5 people to share a house if they want? Stupid stuff, in my opinion. No real hazard here, just neighbors not comfortable with groups of college students.

beeshlii 6 years, 11 months ago

So who are these families? Where they come from? are they in US legally?

irvan moore 6 years, 11 months ago

is it possible the commissioners could petition brownback to get christian mentors for these bad landlords?

roadwarrior 6 years, 11 months ago

" It seems like Lawrence is trying to have it both ways - property values driven up by proximity to KU but then the ability to generate revenue curtailed."

well said. hum, 350K house on the golf course. wonder why its rented ? undervalued due to the recession, property taxes rising, can't sell it and the only option is to rent single familes willing or able not allowed to rent to a group that can afford to keep up with the payments.......sounds like a city mandated recipe for the bank to own another house.

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