As is true of about any group of people, some landlords are more conscientious than others.
That’s why governments need to play a role in ensuring that rental property meets certain standards related to health and safety.
In a city like Lawrence, maintaining a certain level of quality in rental units becomes even more important. In addition to the many long-term Lawrence residents who live in rental housing, the city also is a temporary home for thousands of Kansas University students who rent. For many of those students and their families, one of the few contacts they have with the nonuniversity community in Lawrence is through a landlord or rental management firm. It is in the city’s best interest to try to ensure those interactions are professional and positive.
About the only role city government has in that process is through inspections of rental property to make sure they meet health and safety standards. Currently, the city’s rental inspection law covers only units in single-family neighborhoods, about 10 percent of the city’s rental units. All other properties are inspected only if there is a complaint from a tenant.
It’s easy to see why such complaints would be rare. Students may not understand their rights as tenants and are too busy to spend time haggling with a landlord. They also may fear retribution, perhaps in the form of a security deposit that isn’t fully refunded when they move out.
Officials currently are looking at a couple of different options to expand the city’s inspection program. One would require inspection of all rental units 50 years and older every three years. Such a program would require the addition of one new inspector and an administrative assistant and a total startup cost of about $86,000. The other plan would require inspection of all rental units every three years. That plan calls for five new inspectors, two administrative assistants and a total startup cost of about $370,000. Some of the costs for either program could be offset by raising the annual fee charged for rental units.
Setting a regular schedule for the city to inspect apartments is the best way to ensure consistent compliance with the city’s health and safety codes. Regular inspection also may encourage landlords to maintain their properties in a way that prevents what commonly is known as “demolition by neglect,” where properties are allowed to deteriorate to the point that demolition is the only viable option. Such cases can result in the loss of significant older homes in the community and be damaging to neighborhoods.
Especially with so many student renters, it’s smart for Lawrence officials to be looking at expanded inspection programs to make sure the city’s health and safety standards are enforced.