Lawrence city commissioners certainly are talking tougher when it comes to cracking down on problem landlords in the city.
Of course, the talking is the easy part.
City commissioners recently approved a new ordinance that gives the city far greater authority to deny applications for rental licenses, if the city has evidence the applicant has been a problem landlord in the past. The new ordinance even allows the city to declare problem properties ineligible for use as a rental unit for up to two years. Landlords who live 40 miles or more outside the city limits will be required to hire a local resident agent who can serve as a point of contact when problems arise at their properties. A $500 fine also has been added to the mix of possible penalties.
Those changes have pleased many neighborhood residents who put up with houses that are overcrowded and produce excessive noise, litter and parking problems.
But it is worth remembering that when it comes to rentals, City Hall’s problem never has been an inability to write new regulations.
More than a decade ago, the city took the bold step of making it illegal for more than three unrelated adults to live in a single-family rental home. The ordinance was greeted with enthusiasm by the same neighbors who are enthusiastic now. But the city quickly found the ordinance was difficult to enforce.
Perhaps there are reasons to be more optimistic about the most recent regulation changes. The city has created a strategy that relies more heavily on the ability of city staff members and the City Commission to hand out penalties to problem landlords, rather than relying on the city’s Municipal Court system to do that. Such a system has the potential for abuse and inconsistencies, but it is worth trying and monitoring closely. There are many single-family neighborhoods in the city that are in real need of stability.
But one thing is certain: This new ordinance won’t enforce itself. City staff members are dedicated individuals who will work to enforce the new regulations. But their efforts must be matched by the political will — and resources — of the City Commission, and a dedication to fairly administer these new penalties.
Anything less will be a City Hall failure that will be felt in neighborhoods across the city.