A recent crackdown on code violations at a North Lawrence mobile home park has served as an eye-opener on the living conditions some low-income families in Lawrence endure.
Recently, the city condemned 12 mobile homes in the Riverview Trailer Park, 827 Walnut. The trailers had a variety of health and safety code violations. Some were emptying raw sewage into their yards, others had makeshift additions that clearly weren’t built to safe standards, and most had the dangerous combination of electrical problems and no smoke detectors.
City leaders were correct to take action, even though it has left several families uncertain of where they will live.
The experience at Riverview, though, should serve as a wake-up call on several levels. First, city leaders need to have a discussion about how to better assist families who are forced to leave their homes when city inspectors declare them unfit for habitation.
The city receives more than $700,000 a year in Community Development Block Grant funding. The federal funding is designed, in part, to help low-income families with housing issues. City leaders should seriously consider setting aside a small portion of the funding to provide emergency housing assistance to individuals who are evicted because of code violations caused by a landlord.
The more important course of action, however, is to work to prevent such evictions. Most of the condemned trailers at Riverview are rental units owned by a California landlord. Landlords have both a legal and moral obligation to provide safe living conditions for their tenants.
Whether it be in older homes in the Oread neighborhood or in mobile homes scattered throughout the city, there are legitimate questions about whether all landlords are living up to their obligations.
Perhaps the city does not have the funding or resources to begin a large-scale program to inspect every rental unit in the community. But the city does have the ability to write codes that make it abundantly clear there are serious civil, and perhaps even criminal, penalties for landlords who knowingly allow their tenants to live in unsafe conditions.
There is no better time than the present to send a message that the community takes this issue seriously. City attorneys ought to search the city’s current code to determine what penalties can be assessed against the landlord of the Riverview Trailer Park.
It is a bad situation at Riverview, but it will be worse if the city does not do all it can to let other landlords in Lawrence know that such living conditions are unacceptable in our community.