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Archive for Sunday, November 11, 2012

City likely to consider expansion of rental registration, apartment inspection program

November 11, 2012

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Last month, city inspectors shut down a 24-unit apartment complex in south Lawrence after finding mold growing from the carpet and a host of other health and safety violations.

Tenants had called in complaints to city officials, giving the city the necessary probable cause to order an inspection of the property. Ultimately the system ended up working as it is designed to: Units in an unfit apartment complex will not be rented again until city officials confirm the needed repairs have been made.

But some neighborhood leaders are wondering how often the system doesn’t work.

“I think we have people living in really poor conditions more often than any of us realize,” said Candice Davis, a longtime Oread neighborhood resident.

Davis and other residents of predominantly renter-occupied neighborhoods are making a push to expand the city’s limited rental registration program to require inspections of thousands of additional rental units in the city.

City commissioners have indicated they will hear the issue in the next month, and it will mark at least the third time neighbors have pushed for an expansion of the program.

“Commissioners always seem supportive of the idea, but when it gets to budget time, it doesn’t get funded,” Davis said.

A rejection based on financial concerns this time may draw a stronger reaction from neighbors, Davis said, given that the city recently has found the money to fund unbudgeted requests from groups like the Lawrence Community Theatre, the Lawrence Children’s Choir and others.

“That’s not going to sit well with us,” Davis said. “I think neighborhoods — particularly rental neighborhoods — are starting to feel a little neglected. We know this is not a glamorous issue, but it is a real life and safety issue.”

Cost estimates

The city has a program that requires all rental units in single-family zoned neighborhoods to undergo a city inspection at least once every three years. However, rentals in single-family neighborhoods account for only about 10 percent of the city’s total rental stock.

Staff members recently have put together cost estimates for two ways to expand the program. They are:

• A program that would inspect all rental units at least 50 years old once every three years. The city estimates the program would add about 2,500 rental units initially. City staff members believe they would need to hire one new inspector and one new administrative assistant to staff the program. Total startup costs are projected to be about $86,000.

• A program that would inspect all rental units in the city once every three years. The city estimates the program would add about 18,600 units to the program and would require five new inspectors and two new administrative assistants. Total startup costs are projected to be about $370,000.

The city currently charges a $25 annual fee for rental units part of the city’s rental inspection program that covers only single-family zoned rentals.

The annual fee would need to increase to about $45 in order to cover the additional operating costs if the program is expanded to include all units at least 50 years old, a report from City Hall estimates.

But due to economies of scale, the city estimates the current $25 fee would nearly cover the additional operating costs if all units in the city were inspected.

Varying opinions

City commissioners will have to grapple with whether they want to increase the fees and the scope of the program, but there may be another question that comes up first.

“I have always wondered whether we have done enough self-evaluation of our current program to ensure that we really are operating an efficient program,” city commissioner Mike Dever said.

Whether the city can effectively manage a much larger program likely will be an issue raised by landlords in the community.

“The city can hardly keep up with what they are doing now,” said James Dunn, an officer with Landlords of Lawrence, a business group for landlords. “To tackle something else that doesn’t seem to be a particular problem would be odd. Tenants can call the city and ask for an inspection any time they don’t think their landlord is taking care of an issue.”

But Davis said relying on tenants to complain before an inspection is triggered is a poor system, because some students are afraid of reporting a landlord and losing their security deposit, for example.

Plus, city commissioner Aaron Cromwell said, some students simply don’t recognize the dangers that substandard living conditions can cause.

“I rented homes back in college that were just horrendous,” said Cromwell, who attended the University of Kansas in the 1990s. “I have since seen homes that are still in really bad condition. It is not just the older homes, either.”

Cromwell said he is leaning toward supporting a system that would require all rental units to register and be inspected, regardless of age.

Dever, though, said he still needs more information before he’s comfortable supporting an expansion of the system. But he said now is a good time to start studying the issue seriously.

“Clearly there are reasons we should oversee safe housing in our community,” Dever said. “I just don’t know the best way to do it. I know there is usually a tragedy that causes most regulations to come about, and we want to avoid that at all costs.”

Commissioners are tentatively scheduled to put the issue on the agenda of one of their weekly meetings in early December.

Comments

George_Braziller 1 year, 5 months ago

My neighbor tried for months to get her landlord to fix a leaking shower, leaking roof, and an improperly vented furnace. Finally called the city for a rental inspection. They found multiple code violations and gave the owner ten days to fix them.

The landlord evicted my neighbor because he claimed he couldn't do the work while she was living there. That was six months ago and no work had been done on the apartment, the city has never followed up, and it still sits empty.

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truemother 1 year, 5 months ago

I was one of those tenants that assisted with getting the city involved in the 24-unit apartment inspection that is now shut down. Nobody deserves to live like like that. They also shouldnt have to believe that "sometimes its best to leave things unsaid " in fear of losing their current living situation.

I know it was affordable and Rex is very leniant and helps family. I never said he was a bad man, however people know what the problems are in their building. It is cheaper to get rid of people that speak up than it is to fix, but at what cost. Does someone have to die? I know a friend that fell down those concrete steps in the back because of no lighting in the parking lot. He died from those injuries. It took me catching the Westar employee out back of the unit to take the pole number and turn it in. That parking lot now has lights.

Again, only because Glen died (RIP) did this issue get resolved. It would have only taken a phone call.

I electricuted myself in March in that building. Thank God I lived. It could have been one of my children.

I'm for tougher inspections for all the apartments that are in Lawrence. Yes it may be a pain to everyone, but the life we save might just be our own or someone we really love.

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cowboy 1 year, 5 months ago

  1. Get rid of the existing law
  2. Inspect any rental property over 20 years old
  3. Set compliance schedule for repair work , this gets tricky , whats immediate , whats 90 days , etc.
  4. Reinspect every five years

The first round of inspections will be a nightmare and one inspector will not be able to handle it.

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kuguardgrl13 1 year, 5 months ago

Please seriously consider inspecting all rental units in Lawrence!!! Some of us are really getting screwed by the corporate management companies. It took my complex over two and a half months to fix most of the things we pointed out at move-in. They still haven't inspected our furnace or changed the filters like they are supposed to annually. The vents are disgusting. It'd be nice if they had motivation to take care of it like a threat to close down the place.

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