Archive for Tuesday, January 10, 2012

City approves tougher rental regulations for single-family homes

January 10, 2012

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Landlords who create problems for Lawrence neighborhoods may soon have their own problems to deal with, courtesy of Lawrence City Hall.

City commissioners at their Tuesday evening meeting unanimously agreed to a new enforcement system that could lead to some Lawrence homes being declared ineligible for use as rental units for up to a two-year period.

“We have to take steps to maintain our city,” Mayor Aron Cromwell said.

Commissioners at their weekly meeting approved new language that specifically targets single-family homes that are used as rental units. For more than a decade, the city has had an ordinance that prohibits more than three unrelated people from living in a single-family home. Neighbors have expressed concern that enforcement of the ordinance has been lax, and overcrowding has created problems with noise, parking, litter and other issues.

The new language approved Tuesday, among other things, gives more teeth to the city’s rental licensing program. Specifically it directs the city’s enforcement staff to automatically deny applications for new rental licenses if the applicant has had a rental license revoked by the city during the last two years or if the property being applied for has been the subject of a revoked rental license within the last two years. Applicants could appeal their denials to the City Commission, which would be allowed to use its best judgment in determining whether a license should be issued.

The new ordinance also gives the city’s enforcement staff the ability to revoke an existing license once a property has been found in violation of the any one of the following city codes: the noise ordinance; the anti-litter ordinance; the disorderly house nuisance ordinance; the property maintenance code; the environmental code; or the land development code.

If the city revokes the rental license for the property then it would make that property owner ineligible to apply for other rental licenses in the city for a period of two years. It also would prohibit the property in violation from being used as a rental property for the next two years. Commissioners were told that such a property would either have to be lived in by the owner or remain vacant. Even if the property is sold to another person, the property would be ineligible to receive a rental license for the next two years, unless the City Commission takes a vote to reinstate eligibility for the property.

City staff members said they thought such strict language was needed to prevent problem landlords from simply shifting ownership of the property to a different company that they still control.

Commissioners did express concern about possible unintended consequences from the new ordinance but ultimately said they were fine with the provisions because the City Commission would have the ability to take a vote to make exceptions to the two-year ban.

“I’m not willing to make this too easy on people who are violators,” City Commissioner Bob Schumm said.

The new ordinances also make several other changes, including:

• Out-of-town landlords, defined as anyone who lives more than 40 miles outside the city, must hire a “resident agent” who can serve as a point of contact for the city in enforcement matters.

• The minimum fine for violating the city’s rental licensing program will increase from $250 to $500.

• Tenants of properties now will be subject to fines associated with having too many unrelated people living in a single-family home. Previously, only landlords were subject to the fine.

Representatives from multiple neighborhood associations across the city urged commissioners Tuesday to pass the new regulations. Many urged the city to ultimately take them a step further. The city’s rental licensing program only applies to rental units that are in a single-family neighborhood. Several neighborhood leaders said the program should be expanded to apartment complexes and units that exist in neighborhoods that have multifamily zoning, like the Oread neighborhood.

“I was appalled at the conditions I saw recently in the Oread neighborhood,” said Dan Dannenberg, who said there was a “flop house” clearly being allowed to exist in the neighborhood. “We’re supposed to be a progressive city, and we allow this to exist.”

Commissioners did hear from one landlord who predicted the new regulations won’t produce the type of change neighbors are expecting.

“The problem is we do not follow up on complaints,” Joe Patterson said. “We have been too lax in taking care of complaints when they are filed, and then we get in a situation where it becomes almost a panic. We need to stop and look at the past before we create something new.”

Other business

Also Tuesday, commissioners unanimously approved a pair of agreements with Lawrence-based Community Wireless Corporation.

The agreement gives the company — which is the for-profit operator of the Lawrence Freenet Internet service — more access to city rights-of-way and to use city-owned fiber optic cable to provide high-speed Internet service.

Community Wireless will make a one-time payment of $30,000 to lease a portion of the city’s fiber optic cable for the next 25 years, and will pay the city 5 percent of its gross revenues each year to use the city’s rights-of-way.

Comments

kristeniswright87 3 years, 6 months ago

Freenet is a joke. They should get out of the game. AT&T is awesome.

Joshua Montgomery 3 years, 6 months ago

Yep, service here at the Sigma Kappa house is a real joke.

All they are getting is 41 Mbps Down and 23 Mbps Up. Better than 98% of the United States.

http://www.speedtest.net/result/1699768829.png

I showed you mine, you show me yours. Just go to http://www.speedtest.net and press "share this result", then paste the result here.

just_another_bozo_on_this_bus 3 years, 6 months ago

Will you now be able to expand service to the large swaths of Lawrence that Freenet can't reach at present?

Joshua Montgomery 3 years, 6 months ago

"just_another_bozo_on_this_bus" - We are going to be expanding this year, one radio at a time.

One of the mistakes we made was trying to cover the whole city without the necessary financial resources. As a result our coverage is pretty spotty.

Going forward we are first going to upgrade our existing sites to provide faster service. Then we are going to start expanding outward from the fiber plant.

It is going to take a while ( 5 years? ), but we'll keep chipping away at it one foot at a time.

Matthew Herbert 3 years, 6 months ago

So to improve neighborhoods, we will create vacant properties everywhere? Unbelievable.

jafs 3 years, 6 months ago

The "creation" of vacant properties will be up to landlords - if they operate in a reasonable and correct manner, they won't wind up with vacant properties.

Matthew Herbert 3 years, 6 months ago

how exactly does a landlord prevent a neighbor from calling in a noise complaint on a property? I suppose all landlords should conduct stakeouts of their properties round the clock to ensure this code is upheld!

workinghard 3 years, 6 months ago

I have both rental houses and apartment buildings around my house. Usually the problem is not the houses but the apartments, parking lot parties, bringing their dogs over to my yard to go to the bathroom, theft, and trash. These rules need to apply to all rentals. Four unrelated people can live in an apartment but not a house, ridiculous.

otto 3 years, 6 months ago

"These rules need to apply to all rentals" and bars. There are many bars that are a pain to neighborhoods and the city doesn't care about there trash, fighting etc...

Carol Bowen 3 years, 6 months ago

Transitions and multi-use were discussed but not covered in the news. It was a different agenda item that had proposed changes to development code to address concerns like yours for new development and infill.

Matthew Herbert 3 years, 6 months ago

Well dear citzens of Lawrence, you now have to think twice about calling in that noise complaint knowing that the alternative is Turning your neighbors house into a vacant crack house. That smells of progress. Meanwhile, MY neighbor who OWNS his house, allows it to fall into horrific disrepair and has been the subject of three noise complaints from me alone goes untouched by this legislation. I would LOVE to see the city attempt to tell a homeowner who may reside in HIS house. I believe a small group of 9 men and women may have a hard time understanding why Lawrence, Kansas does not uphold personal property rights. Furthermore, I'd love too see the city actually enforce a two-year vacant ruling. If an apartment building falls against code, must the entire apartment complex remain vacant? Potentially unconstitutional, undeniably unenforceable, unquestionably counterproductive; ladies an gentlemen, your 2012 city commission

realisticvoter 3 years, 6 months ago

Assume you are a landlord and I hope your properties are maintained. But what is wrong with city having power to enforce all the regulations and punish the violators?

jafs 3 years, 6 months ago

  1. The City Commission can choose to allow the property to continue being used, if the landlord appeals - I imagine that they'll do that for a simple one-time noise violation.

  2. If you think there should be legislation involving owner-occupied properties, advocate for it.

  3. This doesn't apply to apartment complexes, just singe family rentals.

By the way, what's your suggestion for making sure that landlords operate the way they're supposed to?

Matthew Herbert 3 years, 6 months ago

I 100% agree that if the property is not in compliance with fire code the city is justified in requiring the landlord bring the property into compliance. However, if the problem arises via noise complaint or other actions of the tenant NOT the landlord - the punitive action needs to be taken against those individuals who are creating the noise in the first place not those who own the property where the problem occured. If I get in a fist fight in the McDonald's parking lot, I ought to be get in trouble for the battery, not McDonalds. Under this policy, the city is punishing the business for the actions of a separate individual occuring on the premises of the business. Additionally, If my lease states that three individuals are living in my dwelling and they invite in a fourth individual without me knowing it, why am I losing my source of income for two years? Am I supposed to now conduct stakeouts on my rentals to insure that no more than 3 people live there?

jafs 3 years, 6 months ago

You may have a point there about noise complaints - certainly the tenants should face some consequences as a result of their behavior.

But, don't landlords also have some responsibility for the tenants they rent to? If you have bad tenants, then shouldn't you get rid of them and get better ones?

Also, a good point - I think the city is trying to stop landlords who knowingly rent to more than 3 people, rather than the situation you mention.

These and other things are most likely why there is an appeals process in which the city may make exceptions to this legislation.

jafs 3 years, 6 months ago

Also, landlords have more legal responsibilities than simply not violating the fire code - check the KLTA for details.

Carol Bowen 3 years, 6 months ago

If a landlord loses his license, I cannot imagine that he would keep the house. He could, I suppose. The other option is to sell the house. It is not up to the city or the neighborhood to take care of her/his business. In our neighborhood, some neighbors take care of their houses better than others, but none of them compare to the conditions in and around many of the rental properties. We have a few rentals that are well kept. Those landlords are not really affected by this ordinance.

JackMcKee 3 years, 6 months ago

Get ready for more expensive court battles, Lawrence.

cowboy 3 years, 6 months ago

Seems like a bit of selective overkill. While the city still allows townhomes that have six cars in each driveway and little to no enforcement on the overall rental stock.

headdoctor 3 years, 6 months ago

I know it depends on what part of town you are in but the owner occupied and multifamily homes are a bigger problem than the single family rentals ever were. There are several owner occupied houses that aren't much more than a land fill. Many of the old converted houses are nothing more than an accident waiting for somewhere or time to happen. I would like to know why they keep hammering the single family rentals but don't want to touch the multifamily ones.

workinghard 3 years, 6 months ago

Answer--Compton, do we really need to ask?

Matthew Herbert 3 years, 6 months ago

I 100% agree. Headdoctor, please run for city commission. You'd have my vote. For every "run down" rental complained about on this board, I will find you an owner-occupied home in equally poor, if not worse condition. The laws of supply and demand keep rentals from being trash. If my rental property looks like garbage, I can't charge top dollar rent. Dont' believe me? Ask yourself why so many of Bonita Yoder's rental properties sit vacant? Or, ask yourself why there has been a movement to build these luxury apartments. The free market will keep rentals in decent shape; no such free market conditions apply to owner-occupied dwellings, thus they are often WORSE than any rental property.

headdoctor 3 years, 6 months ago

I have ran for City Commission before. The Voters made it very clear that they are not interested in having someone in office with any form of common sense and prefer real estate people or the Chamber guys and gals. Bluntly if your not a stooge for the main movers and shakers you don't have much of a chance in being elected. The election machine of Lawrence has always puzzled me. The common citizen can't seem to resist voting for someone who doesn't have their best interest a heart. Go figure.

jafs 3 years, 6 months ago

Having rented for many years in Lawrence, and having seen other rentals in town, I can state absolutely that the "laws of supply and demand" and the "free market" do not in fact assure that rentals will be in good shape.

Both of those things depend on a certain kind of consumer, one who is informed, assertive, and cares about how/where they live.

deec 3 years, 6 months ago

And has the financial resources to be picky,

Boston_Corbett 3 years, 6 months ago

A few bad landlords create the problems for everyone else.

A poster child for the bad landlords: http://www2.ljworld.com/news/2010/sep...

The same problems occurring in non-RS districts should also be enforced.

nativeson 3 years, 6 months ago

Rental regulations are only as good as the resources to enforce them. I notice the the City Commission had no discussion documented in this article about increasing the funding to make these things happen.

CWC continues to receive preference to other carriers. It was initially based on their shaky not-for-profit status as Freenet, now I do not understand the reasoning. Based on the plans that have failed in the past, do not bet on much from the 5% revenue share.

Carol Bowen 3 years, 6 months ago

Single family neighborhoods were the first to be addressed. The intent was to monitor its effectiveness before addressing multi family residences. At the meeting last night, the commission indicated that licensing for multi family is on their discussion to-do list.

headdoctor 3 years, 6 months ago

Yeah, that to do list means nothing. They have used that song and dance for the last several years. Every time it is brought up it gets put on the back burner.

Carol Bowen 3 years, 6 months ago

It's worth pushing forward. Email the city commissioners.

beaujackson 3 years, 6 months ago

Hope these ordinances are enforced ( for a change) .

Rental housing has ruined SF neighborhoods in central Lawrence, played havoc with schools, and forced families to move out of Lawrence because of inflated property values.

Most KU rental landlords could care less about SF neighborhoods, and are laughing all the way to the bank.

All Lawrence taxpayers are paying a heavy price for the displacement of families in central Lawrence because of KU rentals in SF zoned neighborhoods.

Theonlythingthatexceedsyourbad 3 years, 6 months ago

You are wrong. Central lawrence rents are quite reasonable. Now they will be even higher because of this new ordinance. The rents will go up and property values will probably take a small hit because of the lower rental income capacity. Multi-purpose values will increase because of the narrowed market for more than 3 unrelated.

What a bunch of a-holes (city leaders). They have no right to fluctuate the market with their power!!! Especially the part about it affecting the tenants!

Theonlythingthatexceedsyourbad 3 years, 6 months ago

"The rents will go up" - to clarify I mean the rent per room will go up.

Carol Bowen 3 years, 6 months ago

The fee is only $25/year. That does not sound like it would noticeably impact rent. If you are concerned about the requirements to maintain the properties, does that mean you did not plan to maintain them on your own?

LadyJ 3 years, 6 months ago

I remember calling a management company, First Management I believe, with a complaint about the constant parties and stereo wars going on at night at one of their apartment buildings. I was told to call police and let them handle it, it wasn't their problem.

Cant_have_it_both_ways 3 years, 6 months ago

“I’m not willing to make this too easy on people who are violators,” City Commissioner Bob Schumm said. ++++++++++++++++++++++++++ Maybe they should have law that states if your seats in your restraunt are to greasy to sit on, then you cant operate your business for 2 years.

headdoctor 3 years, 6 months ago

One has to wonder if Schumm and the commissioners who use low cost city loans from block grant programs to buy property some years back while they were seated commissioners is up to standard.

onceajhawkalwaysajhawk 3 years, 6 months ago

“We have to take steps to maintain our city,” Mayor Aron Cromwell said. “I’m not willing to make this too easy on people who are violators,” City Commissioner Bob Schumm said. Oh really? Then why is it that "multi-family" isn't a part of this enforcement? Don't play us as fools..We know that this is just a ploy to help compton/stultz and all the other multi-family investors try to rent the insane amount of units that they shoved down our community's throat. The real problem will be with the older complexes that will now have huge vacancies and no money to maintain their properties. You are blind idiots that have been sold a bag of Sh1+ and Lawrence will pay dearly in about 10 years when these complexes become drug dealing gettos. If you mean what you say, then include Multi- family into the equation!

Theonlythingthatexceedsyourbad 3 years, 6 months ago

The city is against expansion. "smart growth" cover. This is to help apartment complex owners who drastically overbuilt. I think that the leaders of Lawrence are really anti-growth, traditional birkenstock republicans who don't know what's best for the city. They only know what's best for their rich friends.

msturner1966 3 years, 6 months ago

It is hilarious (and absolutely pathetic) for you to toss in a word like Republican here. For you to equate someone like Aron Cromwell to Republicans proves you know virtually nothing. Aron Cromwell is about as progressive and liberal as they come. He runs a Environmental business. The city leaders are self serving business folks. It has nothing to do with R or D. It has to do with self serving interests. I could spend 100 pages pointing out how liberals and the "D" folks are far more tyrannical and corrupt than conservatives and "R" folks, but that would be irrelevant here because its about selfishness - not political affiliation.

saladshooter 3 years, 6 months ago

I don't live in Lawrence anymore, but when I did I often thought of there being a need to have a database of bad landlords for renters. In 9 years I moved 7 times because of problems with a landlord (except for one who was great). Landlords know they can rip off their tenants by not fairly refunding deposits (I was charged $25 for a crayon mark on a wall) , not providing maintenance ( I was charged $80 for a plumber when the sewer backed up because roots had clogged it), breach of contract (I was told a shed would be provided to keep kids safe from lawn equipment, it took an argument and a year to get it done). Another time I had to move because water damage was causing black mold to grow in the walls and inside the closets. the landlord refused to remedy the problem and I lost my entire deposit. Ugh, good riddance, Lawrence!!

jafs 3 years, 6 months ago

This would be a great post for Renaissance to read - I hope he/she does so.

Matthew Herbert 3 years, 6 months ago

umm...okay. Why would this be great for me to read? Having never charged tenants for crayons, sewer maintenance or building of sheds, I'm pretty sure he/she wasn't refering to me.

I will say that saladshooter moving 7 times to presumably 7 different landlords in 9 years, ALWAYS due to bad landlords makes me wonder what the constant variable is in that bad relationship.....

jafs 3 years, 6 months ago

Well, you managed to miss the point nicely there.

I thought the "free market" and "supply and demand" worked to ensure quality rentals?

Having rented in Lawrence for some years, I and my wife only had 1 landlord who was good, and many that were not. We are quite good tenants, who generally improve properties, pay for things like duct cleaning, etc.

In my experience, most landlords either don't know what their legal responsibilities are, or don't care about them. Rents are high, and condition of rentals is low. With a large supply of student renters who have money and don't care about the condition of their homes, landlords have little incentive to provide decent quality housing at a reasonable price.

If you want to dismiss my comments because we had more bad landlords than good ones, you're free to do so. But you'd be very wrong in concluding that because of that numerical relationship, we were the problem.

When we finally found a good landlord, we had an excellent mutually beneficial relationship. In fact, it was so good that we wound up buying one of their rental houses, without any agents, negotiated and collaborated on a lot of work that needed to be done, and walked away with everybody feeling that they had done well.

We just got a lovely holiday card from them, and have visited them at their house out of town.

Carol Bowen 3 years, 6 months ago

There is a lot of interest in the community to expand licensing of rental dwellings to multifamily zones. I suggest you start with emails to the city commissioners. The email list of commissioners is at http://www.ci.lawrence.ks.us/commissioners . The commissioners need to see the level of interest.

Don Radina 3 years, 6 months ago

Congrats to Lawrence Freenet! Competition is always good for us consumers. Freenet never gave up when the going got tough. Awesome job.

Don Radina

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