News and notes from around town:
• Consider it a new plan to makes some moo-la at 19th and Massachusetts streets. As we reported a couple of months ago, Iwig Dairy is looking for a location to open a Lawrence store that will sell its farm-fresh milk, ice cream, egg nog and other similar creations.
Well, it looks like the company has settled on a spot at 1901 Mass., next to the temporary Dillons pharmacy location. Tim Iwig, an owner of the Tecumseh-based dairy said he’s in the final stages of signing a lease for the spot. If all goes well, the dairy should take possession of the building by early February, and be open for business a few weeks later.
The store would sell plain old milk, several varieties of flavored milk, butter, and products from other area producers such as cheese, granola, organic vegetables and others.
“We’ll really be looking to put together as many partnerships with local producers as we can,” Iwig said.
Iwig hopes the location will be a winner, in part, because it will be near the new Dillons store that currently is under construction just to the north. Iwig is hoping that people shopping at that store will make the short trip to buy their dairy products at Iwig.
The company has a similar store on Gage Boulevard in Topeka, in addition to selling its products in several area grocery stores. But Iwig thinks the Lawrence store is particularly important to the dairy’s growth plans, partially because the community seems enthusiastic about the idea of buying locally produced food.
“We are about as local as you can get with a dairy,” Iwig said. “We’re right on the edge of Topeka. I’m not sure our milk even travels 20 miles to get to Lawrence.”
As he has done in the past, Iwig is selling shares of stock in the dairy to help finance this latest expansion. Iwig said sales of shares have gone reasonably well, but he would like to sell about 20 more shares at $500 apiece prior to finalizing the lease for the store location. People interested in buying shares should contact the dairy.
• The biggest changes in years to the city’s rental industry will be up for approval at Tuesday’s city commission meeting.
As we reported in October, city commissioners have said they want to get tougher on landlords who violate the city law of allowing no more than three unrelated people to live in a single family home and no more than four to live in a multi-family zoned property.
City attorneys have brought back detailed ordinances that would add several new provisions to the city’s rental regulations. They include:
- Absentee owners of rental property — defined as any owner who lives more than 40 miles outside the city — must hire a local, resident agent to be responsible for the property. The city will require contact information for the resident agent — including a cell phone number — so that the agent can be contacted if problems arise at the property. The agent also can be served legal papers, if the city takes enforcement action against the property.
- The city is giving its enforcement staff broad authority to revoke a rental license. The ordinance says the city’s enforcement officers simply must consider “all aggravating and mitigating circumstances, including, among other things, whether or not the owner has had other revocations or convictions” under the city’s rental code. Currently, only rentals in single family neighborhoods are required to have a rental license. Apartment complexes or homes in multi-family zoned neighborhoods aren’t required to have rental licenses.
- Specifically, a rental license can be revoked if a property is considered to be a “public nuisance.” A property can be declared a public nuisance, if a property violates one or more of the following codes: anti-litter ordinance; disorderly house nuisance ordinance; property maintenance code; environmental code; or the land development code. Rather than revocation, the city also will have the option of placing a property on probation, which would give the property owner a set period of time to correct the violations.
- The city also will have greater authority to deny a property owner a rental license. If a property owner has had a rental license revoked for any property in the city during the last two years, that owner could be denied rental licenses on other properties in the community. The city also has a clause in the new regulations that allows it to deny an application for a particular piece of property, if that property has had its license revoked in the last two years. I’m guessing that is a clause to help prevent people from gaming the system. For example, if ABC Corp. owned 123 Main Street and had its license revoked, the city wants to have a way from preventing the owners of ABC Corp. from switching ownership of the property to XYZ Inc. and receiving a new rental license.
- In addition to possible revocation of a license, a monetary fine can be levied against property owners who violate the code, and that includes landlords who allow more than three unrelated people to live in a single-family home. The new regulations increase the minimum fine from its current level of $250 to $500. The new code also makes it clear that the city’s Municipal Court judge has no ability to lower that fine. The new code also increases the maximum fine from its $1,000 level to $2,500. The new language also makes it clear that landlords who simply fail to have the necessary city rental license are subject to the monetary fines.
- I’m checking on this, but it sure appears that landlords no longer will be the only party subject to a fine. Tenants could get hit with a fine as well. If the tenants knowingly are violating the law by allowing more than three unrelated people to live in a single-family home, they could be subject to the fine. Previously, the city took the position that it was the landlord’s sole responsibility to ensure the code was followed.
Add all those up, and you get a significant change in the city’s rental codes. But the big question will be whether it creates a big change in the city’s rental environment. When the city adopted the code that said no more than three unrelated people can live in a single-family home, that was considered monumental. But many folks will say that change hasn’t produced many real-life results. That’s because proving in court that more than three unrelated people live in a home is a difficult. Counting the number of cars in the driveway each night, doesn’t cut it in court.
It will be interesting to see whether these changes get around that issue. The city seems to be designing them in a way to do so. In one way, the city is creating a process to punish problem landlords without necessarily taking them to court. Issuing a rental license is an administrative decision. If the city revokes your license, the first level of appeal isn’t to court but rather is to the City Commission. Ultimately, though, a landlord could choose to sue the city in Douglas County District Court over a revoked license.
But still, if the city wants to revoke a license because a property is a “public nuisance,” the city will still likely have to go to at least Municipal Court. The city will have to prove one of those ordinances in bullet point No. 3 has been violated. But the good news for neighbors is that it may be easier (probably not easy though) to prove a violation of some of those ordinances than it is to simply prove more than three unrelated people are living in a home.
Like any other code, though, it all will depend on how much intestinal fortitude commissioners and others at City Hall have in enforcing the law. Enforcing the law will come with some risks to the city, which I wrote about back in October. But if passed, it sure appears the city would have a law with more teeth in it.
• Click here for the latest real estate transactions recorded by the Douglas County Register of Deeds for the week ending Jan. 2.