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Opinion

Opinion

Editorial: Rental oversight

Monitoring the health and safety of rental housing is especially important in a community like Lawrence.

November 16, 2012

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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.

Comments

Kathy Getto 1 year, 5 months ago

You need to leave me alone, artichoke, jeez give up already.

1

Amy Heeter 1 year, 5 months ago

Speaking of rentals: I do believe my Momma went from renting space in someone's head to out right owning her.

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Kathy Getto 1 year, 5 months ago

Found this page on FB. https://www.facebook.com/SlumlordsOfLawrenceKansas?ref=ts&fref=ts

While this one is questionable due to some of the participants, it may be a good idea for more enlightened residents.

2

LivedinLawrence4Life 1 year, 5 months ago

What should be illegal is when the Journal World hangs stuff on doors of homes and apartments and throws unwanted newspapers in people's driveways!!!!

People take great care to make sure their home doesn't appear vacant when they are out of town and then the darn Journal World hangs something on the door and throws the unwanted advertising section in the driveway to alert all criminals that the owner hasn't been home lately.

Let's move toward regular inspections of the Journal World's activities such as these. There should be an inspection fee paid per marketing piece or unwanted newspaper in each driveway in order to pay for these inspections!

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swampyankee 1 year, 5 months ago

Why does the age of a rental property matter ? 50 years or older lets all poorly constructed and maintained newer properties slide by any enforcement.

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oneeye_wilbur 1 year, 5 months ago

How does one complain and/or actually file a complaint against city owned real estate and assests in disrepair? Just curious? They are after all taxpayer assets and not properly maintained by the city. Also, what about the commercial properties in downtown Lawrence that have actual blight and fire hazards. Where does one report those?

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Boston_Corbett 1 year, 5 months ago

roadwarrior: Granted. The "bad" landlords are small in number, but they have enough properties to run down a neighborhood. When the properties are so bad nobody lives in them, nobody can call the properties in for a visit, so they sit and decline.

Why have a rental registration program when it specifically excludes 90% of the problems (oread).

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roadwarrior 1 year, 5 months ago

Well, I agree with Liberty One. I work on rentals in Lawrence. Tenants make choices. Some of the biggest environmental impacts to those tenants is often self inflicted. As my father used to tell me "some people just don't have a sense of atmosphere."
I think its a small number of people who are afraid to bring problems to their landlords.The number of tenants complaining about inadequate heating and cooling when they have left windows open would blow your mind. LOL.

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Richard Heckler 1 year, 5 months ago

Of course Lawrence,Kansas has an overabundance of rental properties which makes one wonder why the banks are participating in risky lending? This is after all what caused the economy to go straight to hell.

Are all of the property owners keeping their their property taxes paid in full? Or is there some back door agreement that does not enforce property tax collections on owners/developers? What's the answer?

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somedude20 1 year, 5 months ago

Liberty One, I get what you are say and you have a good point, but it is fair to say that if a person who can only afford "cheap" rent most likely would not have health insurance, so if they lived in an environment that makes them sick and they got to LMH to get better, don't we as payers of taxes, still foot the bill, so to speak?

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Richard Heckler 1 year, 5 months ago

City inspectors have been understaffed for years.

City government refuses to make changes which is why things like site plan violations take place, junk new construction is allowed and neighborhood problems go unchecked.

Inspector Under staffing = defacto deregulation. Isn't it odd there is always tax dollars for tax dollar giveaways and new field houses but never for enough inspection staff that is responsible for enforcement of codes and ordinances.

2

hipper_than_hip 1 year, 5 months ago

If the true number of sub-standard newer build apartments is actually revealed by inspection, perhaps the City wouldn't be so eager to grant carte blanche to every builder who wants to put in another 1000 unit complex.

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hedshrinker 1 year, 5 months ago

many people would love to live in newer, safer,housing with more amenities but the previously alluded to "market forces" in Lawrence where thousands of students are paying rent with their parent's dime have driven the cost of housing up substantially over other non-university communities. Landlords here know they can charge an arm and a leg and the average student tenant has no ability to assess safety or ability to correct unsafe conditions on their own. And that leaves non-student prospective tenants at a serious disadvantage to find habitable and affordable housing, especially in a community which also doesn't provide an abundance of living wage jobs with which to pay the bills. Liberty One and LarryNative always act like people CHOOSE to live in substandard housing, to be poor, etc. The days of Horatio Alger are long gone...individual success is not simply a matter of personal will. You guys are always blaming the victim...there are services that individuals just cannot rationally be expected to be able to provide for themselves. I am really sick of this toxic myth of "rugged individualism".

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jhawkinsf 1 year, 5 months ago

As with any governmental function, there needs to be a balance. Sure, we could hire more inspectors to fan out across the city inspecting all rental properties. We will need skilled people to do such work, people who will demand significant compensation for those skills. Costs to the city will skyrocket. That cost will then be passed on to residents. Or in the alternative, to the landlords themselves in the form of a fee for the city providing that service. Then that cost will be passed on to the renter in the form of higher rents.

Yet the same people who say rents are already too high and low income folks are already getting hurt are now advocating for something that will increase the pain inflicted upon those least able to cope with higher rents.

Sure, we need inspectors to deal with the most egregious situations. But what we probably don't need is a massive increase of a city bureaucracy with the costs passed on to those least able to deal with them.

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just_another_bozo_on_this_bus 1 year, 5 months ago

"Market forces" can't reveal black mold hidden inside of walls or faulty wiring that presents risk of fire or even electrocution. And there are a host of other problems that might make a rental unit substandard or even dangerous for habitation that the average person, especially the average 19-year-old, have no knowledge to even look for, much less find, when looking for a rental unit.

3

J Good Good 1 year, 5 months ago

What drives up the cost of housing for families is slumlords who can get 500 dollars or more per bedroom in single family neighborhoods. Then they do zero maintenance, and rip off every single deposit they get. I know this happens with one property owner in town over and over. And folks who are invested in their neighborhoods and take care of their property live next door to houses being allowed to fall in. I don't know about city wide inspections, but I think everyone deserves safe housing at least.

5

imastinker 1 year, 5 months ago

All this is doing to do is drive up the cost of housing, unless this is a real problem.

Just once when they come up with new programs like this I'd like them to try to make a case for it being needed.

1

Number_1_Grandma 1 year, 5 months ago

Lawrence has a morale obligation to require all rental properties to be safe. Inspecting to make sure a college students don't unknowingly move into a death trap, is an obligation city government cannot turn its back on. Being a college town, especially!

The inspectors also have an obligation to maintain residential neighborhoods by enforcing no more than 3 unrelated people living in rental properties in residential neighborhoods. This keeps multifamily zoned areas where they should be and families raising kids in residential neighborhoods. And keeps us from having to build new schools by chancing these residential neighborhoods that move because rental houses are created when more than 3 unrelated people are allowed to move into these neighborhoods designed for families. Let landlords buy homes that are zoned for multifamily and stay away from single family homes in residentially zoned neighborhoods! The integrity of our neighborhoods depend on it!

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Liberty_One 1 year, 5 months ago

No. Let the price system work. Some people want affordable (read: cheap) housing and are willing to live in less-than-wonderful places if it means less rent. Let sellers and buyers work out what they are willing to pay for and what they are willing to sell.

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