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Archive for Wednesday, October 5, 2011

City adopts tougher penalties for landlords who violate city code for single-family homes

October 5, 2011

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Unscrupulous Lawrence landlords beware: The price of violating a longtime city code just got much higher.

City commissioners at their weekly meeting directed staff members to immediately begin changing how they enforce an existing city code that prohibits more than three unrelated people from living in a single-family home.

In short, the new enforcement policy would allow the city to revoke a landlord’s rental license for a particular piece of property if that property has been found to be in violation of the occupancy code two times within a 24-month period. In some cases the license could be revoked after one violation if the property owner did not take steps to correct the violation.

“Neighborhoods are suffering from this,” Mayor Aron Cromwell said, although commissioners said they believe it is a minority of landlords who are blatantly violating the code. “But this has become a problem throughout our town, and we have to deal with it.”

When it comes to losing a rental license, the financial stakes could be high for landlords. As city commissioners were told at their meeting, a revocation would mean that the owner of the property would no longer be allowed to lease the property to tenants. The owner of the property could either move into the property to make it an owner-occupied home, sell the property or let it set vacant. Scott McCullough, the city’s director of planning and development services, said his interpretation of the code is that a revocation of a license is permanent. In other words, the property owner would be forever barred from leasing that particular property again — although they could receive a rental license for other properties in the city.

Property owners could appeal any revocation directly to the City Commission — and like any City Commission action, it could be challenged in Douglas County District Court.

In addition to changing the enforcement policy, commissioners also directed staff members to:

  • Draft a new ordinance that will set the fine for violating the rental registration ordinance to a minimum of $500 and a maximum of $2,500. Currently it is a minimum of $250 and a maximum of $1,000.
  • Change the definition of a resident to make it clear that anyone staying in a home for more than 14 days in a 30-day period is counted as a resident under the occupancy code.
  • Research the feasibility of requiring out-of-state owners — or perhaps even owners who live a certain number of miles outside the city — to list a “resident agent” for their properties. That would be an individual that the city could serve legal notice to when a property is found in violation. City prosecutors said they have had problems enforcing the law when a property owner lives outside the area or especially outside the state.
  • Those three items will require ordinances to be brought back to the City Commission for formal votes, but the change in enforcement policy is effective immediately. Currently only single-family homes that are used for rentals are required to have a city license. Traditional apartments are not required to have a license, and they generally are allowed to house up to four unrelated people.

In other action, commissioners:

  • Heard more than a hour’s worth of public comment regarding boarding houses and parking issues in the Oread neighborhood. But commissioners took no action on the subject of whether a new code opens the door for too many homes in Oread to be converted into boarding houses. Instead, they sent the issue back to the Planning Commission for more review. Commissioners sent the issue back on a 4-1 vote, with Commissioner Hugh Carter opposed.
  • Unanimously agreed to reduce weekday green fees at the city-owned Eagle Bend Golf Course.

Approved on second and final reading an ordinance that adds gender identity to the list of protected classes in the city’s anti-discrimination ordinance.

Comments

Wadde 3 years, 2 months ago

Another reason why there is homelessness in Lawrence which the public and our

so called Humane Community overlooks to see...

Ron Holzwarth 3 years, 2 months ago

"Change the definition of a resident to make it clear that anyone staying in a home for more than 14 days in a 30-day period is counted as a resident under the occupancy code."

So if a friend from overseas travels thousands of miles over the Atlantic or Pacific ocean to see you, there is a 14 day time limit to stay with you?

Good one.

poolside 3 years, 2 months ago

Buy a homeless shelter-put people out of their homes-times it right I would say

Kerry Putthoff 3 years, 2 months ago

Let's see... it is a four bedroom house, built as a four bedroom house, intended to "house" four people from it's inception! Sounds to me like a ploy to force more renters to the outskirts and directly into some of the new "empty" apartments outside of campus. So what is next, is the Lawrence council going to start limiting how many "related" family members can live together? Who decides what constitutes a "relative"?

jafs 3 years, 2 months ago

Generally, a 4 bedroom single family house was designed and intended to house a family.

Parents, a couple of kids, etc.

It wasn't designed to house 4 students, each in their own bedroom, who are renting it.

Kerry Putthoff 3 years, 2 months ago

I see.... and what if you have someone that becomes disabled and you decide to take them in, or let's say house a "homeless" person! I just don't think you get the point. If the council can do this in a private residence, then they can come after you in your residence for the next "hot button" issue that is concieved! Besides, that is still four people the way I count it, unless you have some special way of counting and if they are of age, all four could/would have a car!

jafs 3 years, 2 months ago

What if?

This is an ordinance involving somebody who is engaged in a business within the city - if somebody wants to let people live in their house for free, I think it wouldn't be covered.

Cities routinely set rules and regulations about business operations, and license them

It's not a "private residence" if it's being rented out - then it's a business.

evilpenguin 3 years, 2 months ago

The point of the law is to stop scummy landlords jamming a bunch of students into one house creating an unsafe environment for them and their neighbors.

A single family home suggests that it is one family. As Jafs says, a 4 bedroom house may be 2 parents, 2 kids and a spare. That's one family who are all related so this would not be an issue under the new code.

If you are a family who takes in a disabled relative that will also not be an issue, as they are a related member of your family.

That should pretty much resolve all the issues you have. What's next?

Kerry Putthoff 3 years, 2 months ago

Unless I woke up in Communist Russia, I don't see anywhere in the constitution that says we have the right to pursue happiness, unless it involves living in the city of Lawrence! NO WHERE in the codes does it say that you have to have two parents two kids and a spare, or you cannot live in a residence. What it all boils down to is that you all want the students to come and spend thier (or rather Mommy and Daddy's) money as long as you don' t have to see or hear them. When the government starts telling you/me what type of person we may have in our "private" residence, then we are running head long into a communist state! I don't have issues with people living in a house designed for four people. It seems that you do !? I am not the one to discriminate here. We have rules and laws on the books to keep order in the society and if the students get out of line, then they will have to suffer the consequences as do we! I grow weary of this now so...

jafs 3 years, 2 months ago

Missing again the point.

A house that's being rented to tenants is not a "private residence".

You can put any people you want into your own home without charging them, and there won't be any issues at all, if they're not being held against their will, or otherwise abused.

Kerry Putthoff 3 years, 2 months ago

That would be a response I would expect from a person with a limited vocabulary. So If I agree with you would I be acceptable? I was expecting something with more substance. Thanks for helping make my point!

Kerry Putthoff 3 years, 2 months ago

Welcome to the "Communist State of Lawrence" !

freestitch 3 years, 2 months ago

"What's up with that creepy old house on the corner?" "Oh, it has been sitting empty since Old Man Timmons allowed 4 people to live there." "Cool, want to sneak in and vandalize it? " "Yeah"

Which is better for neighborhoods, a 4 bedroom house with 4 people living in it or a vacant 4 bedroom house?

jafs 3 years, 2 months ago

Yeah, I have a little problem with letting the landlord simply let the house sit vacant.

Doesn't sound like a good idea to me either - although I guess there won't be many who want to do that, except for any possible tax advantages. They'll want to sell it and unload it, or use it.

freestitch 3 years, 2 months ago

You are correct, I do not live in a neighborhood full of college aged students. But, it does seem like 3 students can throw a raging booze fest as easily as 4.
You obviously don't live in a neighborhood with vacant houses. Lawns still have trash in them, but they only get mowed about once a month so it's hidden most of the time. I'm sure there is less noise and drunkenness, but there is a noticable increase of feral cats. (And they like to party at 3 am) Not to mention the local vandals who seem to enjoy bb gun target practice at windows.

esteshawk 3 years, 2 months ago

Three college students are just as capable of having a party than are four.

imastinker 3 years, 2 months ago

I think you are right. This is all about the big landlords trying to stick it to the small landlords.

somedude20 3 years, 2 months ago

OK you buggers win! I will have 3 or less in my pad but the yard, that is fair game. Rent out tents for the others to sleep in

headdoctor 3 years, 2 months ago

This is just more symbolism over substance in law making. The City Commission took a law that should have never made it past the courts as it was written and is trying to fear monger those who are in violation by increasing the penalty. That will not do any good if there is no real teeth put into enforcement. The current law already has fines and even an agent clause but the enforcement is very similar to the typical big brother approach. At least with the big brother system, someone has to complain. Then there is a usually a ticket or notice involved followed by possible court action. With this rental law, a neighbor complains and or a Neighborhood Resources Inspector gives notice to the property owner. From there many times the inspectors and the police spend their time pointing fingers at each other as to which one starts the enforcement.

The original idea of the law was to improve the health and safety of tenants and neighbors as well as control the parking issues. If the City is really serious about those issues, one has to wonder why the multifamily rentals are not licensed and or inspected. Every time the licensing of multifamily housing is mentioned, it gets shot down. There is also problems with home owners that keep a half dozen cars on the street but that never gets much attention either.

jafs 3 years, 2 months ago

Those are good points about multi-family rentals and people who have a bunch of cars.

Carol Bowen 3 years, 2 months ago

Covering all rentals was considered. Homeowners in single family zones were asking for relief because of problems with many(not all) of the rentals. Propert owners from multi-family zones wanted regulation, too. The city decided to start with single family zones first because of cost. The city's budget is tight, but maybe we should make sure that multi-family zones are included in the discussion. My bet is that we still cannot finance expanded licensing, but it would be good to have the discussion on record,

Carol Bowen 3 years, 2 months ago

Got me hangin'. I heard that, too. Don't know.

headdoctor 3 years, 2 months ago

Well, that didn't take long for Godwin to show up in this thread.

esteshawk 3 years, 2 months ago

Renters pay taxes, its just indirectly through the prop owner.

Glo 3 years, 2 months ago

Many people know of over-occupied houses, but almost always, the city's response is that they have no proof that too many residence are living there. How does charging a bigger fine really help? Most landlords will never reach that point and keep operating as usual.

Clickker 3 years, 2 months ago

My rentals have about 4 per room. I got no problem with it. Keeps me rented.

jafs 3 years, 2 months ago

Thanks for demonstrating why these ordinances are necessary.

Zero 3 years, 2 months ago

As much as I love Lawrence, I left for a city with better opportunities. It became clear that the city government is more worried about noise ordinances and pleasing a few snobs than the economic growth of the city. Every job I ever had in Lawrence relied on the students. Retail, restaurants, small business, education. We wouldn't have been in operation if it weren't for the students. I worked at a school where a majority of the parents were employed or went to KU. Unless it's something like a retirement home (which also doesn't really count because they are staffed by students because it is a physically demanding job that pays little), you rely on students for your well-being. Now we wonder why the enrollment of KU is dropping? Kids are getting smart! Instead of living in a 4 bedroom house close to campus and having to pay for the additional bedroom for no reason, they can live near KC, be closer to a lot cooler attractions, have cheap rent, pay cheap tuition, and still get a good education while not getting treated like crap. Sounds good to me! There are thousands of students who go to KU. Yes, there are a few rowdy ones who are a nuisance. If you don't like it, don't like 2 blocks from a school. I'm a working an adult, I live close to a large university and sometimes there are parties on the weekends. If it bothered me, I would not live here. If the city is so worried about property values, they should have stricter laws on all the slumlords who don't maintain their homes, not some landlord who wants to let four studious, non-related girls live together. What kind of a government makes laws about who can live together in a house? Lawrence, I loved you but you are killing yourself. Good luck trying to be some boring retirement mecca.Glad I got out.

esteshawk 3 years, 2 months ago

Does this mean a group home of four disabled living together is not allowed?

jafs 3 years, 2 months ago

That's actually a good question.

My wife works with that population - we'll see how it affects them.

Katara 3 years, 2 months ago

I think those are classified differently as group homes (even though it may be what most of us consider a single family home).

Katie Dennis 3 years, 2 months ago

thank you! I went to KU and lived in the "student ghetto" with 9 other non-related girls. No crazy parties were thrown, we needed cheap rent, close to campus. We didn't want to take a bus or drive to campus from West Lawrence or out by Walmart. We wanted to walk to school. What's wrong with that? I graduated, but since I'm not married with kids and I still work in Lawrence, I need roommates and (still) cheap rent. I had to hide my last roommate from my landlord because we were violating the rental agreement. Neither one of us could afford rent, even with full time jobs. We needed to share a place. This is the LAST thing the city should be picking on in economic times like these. BOO HOO Lawrence residents, you live in a college town! It was a college town before you moved here/you were born and will be after you die. Get over it. That's what happens. Some of us "non-permanent" residents fall in love with this town and decide they want to stay and make it our home. If we don't get hitched and pop out some kids, I guess we're going to be consigned to big apartment complexes out in West and South Lawrence. I thought Lawrence was supposed to be "progressive" but this is stone aged, come on. If you're not a family, you're not welcome in our neighborhood. Yes, it's hyperbole, but it sure is the vibe I'm feeling from the City.

Katie Dennis 3 years, 2 months ago

thanks none2. I grew up in small town and when I graduated I decided to stay in Lawrence. KC was too big for me, I didn't want to live in the suburbs and Lawrence fits just right. I work hard and I'd love to invest in my community and I believe I can do that without owning a home. Unfortunately, home ownership for "young children" like me is far away in terms of my financial future. It's disheartening to be stereotyped as a "young child" because I want to rent a home, live with roommates and be responsible and take care of the property. The irresponsible, young college students that do cause problems in your neighborhoods are a gross misrepresentation of most young people living in this city. I don't stereotype "your" generation as a generation of uppity, snobbish, whiners who ruined our economy during a period of rampant deregulation and tax cuts. I understand there are issues with the way housing works in this city, but don't lump all citizens under 35-40 into some troublesome category. I spend my hard earned dollars in this city and I'm doing what I can to give back. Give folks a break.

melott 3 years, 2 months ago

This applies to neighborhoods zoned single-family, which the student ghetto is not. So it will not apply there. The neighborhoods in question are typically full of small 50's ranch houses.

peartree 3 years, 2 months ago

I believe this is directed at slum lords, not students as some angry posters suggest. It is actually trying to improve conditions for renters who live in substandard conditions, because many of the violators of this ordinance are the same property owners who are happy to rent spaces to students which are unsafe and do not meet code. People die in houses like this (from fires, etc.) Students often are just happy to have a cheap place to stay and do not know or care about their rights.

Homeowners are angry, I believe, not about a few parties but about a beautiful house being chopped up, run into the ground, and eventually torn down due to lack of upkeep. When landlords are not held accountable, this is exactly what happens. These homes cause property values to plummet, and neighborhood become undesirable. Then, criminality creeps in.

It is not a stone age approach toward students, but a stone age approach toward landlords that we have had in Lawrence. Other college towns in the Midwest have much better zoning and enforcement rules in place for dealing with these issues. Again, these rules protect the renters AND the homeowners.

Also, if a landlord cannot afford to follow the ordinance and risks foreclosure, he or she should not own the property in the first place.

peartree 3 years, 2 months ago

I would say such a landlord has had ten years to rectify the situation by petitioning the city to grandfather the property, rezone it, sell it, reconfigure it so it could be profitable as a three bedroom property, work with the city to try and change the ordinance... After ten years of collecting rent and being out-of-compliance without consequence, I'd say no one is being held hostage.

MarcoPogo 3 years, 2 months ago

Then the landlord should get a time-traveling DeLorean and a Flux Capacitor and get to work on his/her houses when the ordinance was originally passed. Might work better than the scheme of having tenants tell the City that they were not allowed inside for an inspection. (Yes, that was a technique one of my landlords used even though there were only two of us living in the house.)

Richard Heckler 3 years, 2 months ago

The tenants and landlords bring this on themselves. How? Neither respect the live in residents in the immediate areas.

This is how laws and regulations become in demand.

Now is the city commission going to free up the tax dollars to provide for enough inspectors?

If not it's nothing more than lip service.

Richard Heckler 3 years, 2 months ago

All the landlords know this cannot be enforced. For the same reason it has never been effectively enforced. City Hall has never authorized enough staff to enforce the regulation.

As yet nothing much has changed...

Katara 3 years, 2 months ago

I'd actually like to know how big of a problem this really is. Is this just a few upset neighbors (who probably have a right to be) or this more widespread?

It seems to me that some of the arguments given for why this ordinance is good can apply just as well to owner-occupied homes.

It seems to me that if landlords weren't following the rules before, increasing the fines will not scare them into doing so now. They will just be sneakier about it and since it is difficult to prove that they are violating the rules, there is no real gain here.

Katie Dennis 3 years, 2 months ago

  1. I lived in the "student ghetto" for two years, as well as East Lawrence and a home on Naismith. I'm not sure if those are zoned for single family homes, but the East Lawrence home was where I had to "hide" my room mate.

  2. Too bad us "young children" probably won't be making any large investments in our neighborhoods because even with a college degree and beyond adequate work experience, it's increasingly difficult to find a job that pays enough to afford home ownership along with student loans. Also, you don't know how old I am. Don't assume someone is young because they're just out of college and unmarried. While I have seen some reasonably priced homes and it's possible that a mortgage payment would be less than rent, I'm not buying a home until my job is secure and I know I'll be there for a while and right now I'm not willing to make that large of an investment. That doesn't make me any less "invested" in my neighborhood. Our generation might be a generation of renters for a very long time.

  3. I agree with peartree. My father was a contractor for 25 years and was appalled at most places I lived in. The conditions of these homes are absurd and yes it is sad that beautiful neighborhoods, which students and homeowners alike can contribute to, are becoming dilapidated pits. JOY REALTY is one example. I looked at a few of her properties and I was shocked at the state of these places. She rents a property on Ohio street that looks condemned and she charges an ridiculous amount of rent. A few of her properties, from what I can tell, remain unrented and I can only imagine it's because of the terrible condition they are in. Or take Connecticut street for example. Some of the homes on that street are beautiful, while others resemble a haunted house. I agree, stricter rules for actual property owners/slumlords, instead of "punishing" those just trying to work hard and pay affordable rent.

Carol Bowen 3 years, 2 months ago

One of the difficulties is the availability of rental units for Lawrence families (no stereotype implied) with low to moderate incomes, as one poster pointed out. Landlords can get more rent charging by the head(usually students), thus throwing the rental market off kilter.

We have a for bedroom house in our single family neighborhood. A mother with four boys tried to rent it. The rate was not even close to affordable.

I see advantages to this ordinance: 1. Stability in single family neighborhoods. 2. Health, safety and rights for tenants in single family neighborhoods. 3. Affordable housing for permanent residents.

juma 3 years, 2 months ago

This law had ONLY one reason. Keep the Big Developers out of bankrupticy. Force students out to the empty apartments. This keeps the boyz happy.

Carol Bowen 3 years, 2 months ago

Were you at the commission meetings when the ordinance was developed or are you guessing?

Carol Bowen 3 years, 2 months ago

I was responding to the idea that the ordinance was pushed by owners of large and new apartment complexes. The dialog at the time was pretty much the same as It is on this blog now. Large apartment complexes were not part of the concern. In fact, there were not as many apartment complexes back then.

Katie Dennis 3 years, 2 months ago

I do believe this has a lot to do with it. As the ordinances were already in place, but now they're just "cracking down?" Seems like a little pressure from said "boyz" is taking effect.

Katie Dennis 3 years, 2 months ago

thanks none2. I grew up in small town and when I graduated I decided to stay in Lawrence. KC was too big for me, I didn't want to live in the suburbs and Lawrence fits just right. I work hard and I'd love to invest in my community and I believe I can do that without owning a home. Unfortunately, home ownership for "young children" like me is far away in terms of my financial future. It's disheartening to be stereotyped as a "young child" because I want to rent a home, live with roommates and be responsible and take care of the property. The irresponsible, young college students that do cause problems in your neighborhoods are a gross misrepresentation of most young people living in this city. I don't stereotype "your" generation as a generation of uppity, snobbish, whiners who ruined our economy during a period of rampant deregulation and tax cuts. I understand there are issues with the way housing works in this city, but don't lump all citizens under 35-40 into some troublesome category. I spend my hard earned dollars in this city and I'm doing what I can to give back. Give folks a break.

Carol Bowen 3 years, 2 months ago

Landlords cannot make a profit without charging by the head. More than one of them stated this for the record at commission meetings. Charging by the head in a single family zone drives up the rent for a home, then a family of any type cannot afford to rent in single family neighborhoods. So, Wilbur, I challenge you to rent your homes in single family zones on one lease with one or two people signing for rent for the house, not the number of people in the house.

Carol Bowen 3 years, 2 months ago

None2, You read way too much into my post. Of course, there are some homes that are not rented by the head. Those homes are not really affected by the ordinance, nor are a lot of other circumstances. I made no reference to slum landlords, nor did I imply that all landlords charge by the head. I merely pointed out how renting by the head affects single family neighborhoods.

I am not sure if the ordinance makes you very angry because you don't understand it, or because you have had bad experiences with it. Could you provide examples?

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