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.