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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

Liberty_One 1 year, 8 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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grammaddy 1 year, 8 months ago

Not a renter, huh? No one should have to live in sub-standard housing.

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headdoctor 1 year, 8 months ago

It is true that more economical rentals serve a purpose for the lower income residents. It is possible for the landlords to have economical rentals that are not a health or safety issue. There are landlords who have been able to get away with maintaining substandard housing leaving the taxpayers to pick up the tab for emergency services when something goes wrong. Who wants their house damaged when something happens in a rundown rental.

Many of these rundown rentals are not cheap to rent. Some of the older multifamily units would be shut down over night if they were inspected.

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headdoctor 1 year, 8 months ago

Better that they are temporarily homeless than dead or injured. The last time the City had to shut down an apartment complex the city worked with the tenants, agencies and other landlords to find a place for them to move.

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hipper_than_hip 1 year, 8 months ago

Clearly you're not a landlord, because if you were, you'd realize that the things they inspect for are pretty basic: working smoke detectors, is there glass in all the windows, etc.

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headdoctor 1 year, 8 months ago

The city inspections can seem rather simple. Even with a basic inspection they discover overloaded electric circuits, bad GFI's, Bad water and Sewer problems and various code violations. The inspector will even go out of their to help the landlord with problem tenants where health and safety is an issue. Believe it or not, the inspection laws and inspectors are not there just to make life miserable for the landlord.

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Boston_Corbett 1 year, 8 months ago

In other words, Liberty wants no building codes, no zoning, no health codes. He sees no problem having the homeless live in cardboard boxes in downtown Lawrence, or in the front of your house. If a neighbor's house is full of rats, so what?, the market will take care of it.

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headdoctor 1 year, 8 months ago

Yup, pretty funny. Liberty One is always talking about how Government should primarily be there to protect individual rights yet when a subject comes up that qualifies there is always some other reason the Government shouldn't be involved.

Libertarians mind set is for a perfect world...Theirs. They ignore the fact we don't live in a perfect world. In this case if all landlords took care of their property we wouldn't need inspectors and laws. The reality is they don't keep their property up and will not do so unless forced.

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headdoctor 1 year, 8 months ago

Competition is good and the market forces may effect some landlords but the market doesn't fix safety and health hazards. You are absolutely clueless of the mindset of slumlords. Some will even let their house set empty before they will fix anything if they ever do. Empty houses are just as much if not more so of a potential hazard to the neighbors as an occupied one that is unsafe.

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headdoctor 1 year, 8 months ago

I don't need to channel their thoughts. I could care less what their actual thought process is. All I really need to see if the result of their lack of action or attention to their property. Not to many years back there were three families in Lawrence that owned most of the vacant, derelict houses. There wasn't one of them that didn't have vermin or squaters living in them. The families wouldn't fix them nor would they sell them. Those houses were a real neighborhood danger and some did catch fire. The market had no influence on these properties and nothing was done until the City stepped in and finally put an end to most of them.

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headdoctor 1 year, 8 months ago

LO that is the worst attempt at sidestepping the issues I have seen since the last time you went on a posting spree. You are either clueless how the world works or have no real practical experience in life. Do you think the rats care about property or individual rights? If a house next door is full of rats they will be checking out your crib sooner or later. Then what. Same with cockroaches, etc. Critters could care less where your property line is. I am also very certain that fire doesn't care where your house is. Even if your house doesn't burn with it you still get to deal with scorched paint, siding, trees, etc.

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imastinker 1 year, 8 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.

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J Good Good 1 year, 8 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.

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just_another_bozo_on_this_bus 1 year, 8 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.

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just_another_bozo_on_this_bus 1 year, 8 months ago

"Every fire at an occupied apt building I have heard of was the tenants fault or arson. I have also never heard of faulty wiring killing anyone at a rental."

A comprehensive review like that settles it-- why have electrical codes at all? And slumlords have never been known to put a quick patch job and a fresh coat of paint on water-damaged, black-mold infested walls, have they?

And we all know that the average 19-year-old coed knows exactly what to look for in tell-tale signs of what will be a nightmare two months into the rental period, don't we?

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just_another_bozo_on_this_bus 1 year, 8 months ago

"The answer is simple, move to one of the empty 1000 apts we have in Lawrence."

And why not allow the prospective tenants to have the knowledge of which of those 1000 apts. is a substandard hellhole?

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tomatogrower 1 year, 8 months ago

Of course you would love it if the landlord's neglect would just burn the place down. Fewer of those gosh darn takers, right LO. Such a moral person.

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Armored_One 1 year, 8 months ago

Wrong. As it stands with current city regulations, there is no ability for a tenant to force an inspection of a single family rental. I know this for a fact due to the simple fact that I saw it happen with my own eyes. A young lady was renting the property next to my house, which is a rental property but is a single family dwelling.

She found mold in the walls and the wiring is not up to NEC requirements, both of which are enforcable in multi family rental properties but not single. This expansion IS needed. I know for a solid fact, having several friends that rent, that the wiring in most of them is beyond substandard. Many of them are renting houses that a circuit breaker that has a phone number in it that starts with VI, which went away back in the late 50's or early 60's.

Why is that acceptable in a single family residence but unacceptable in a multi family rental property? Dual standards are a load of bull feathers, regardless of where you find them.

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headdoctor 1 year, 8 months ago

Guess you are purposely being obtuse LN....again, or you haven't been reading the local news the last few years. There are several properties that have issues but many are with rentals that are not part of the licensing and inspection laws.

Personally, I think if the city is going to have a rental licensing and inspection program, it should be enforced against all landlords equally and fairly. If they can't do so then they need not enforce it at all and or come up with one that can be. There are several rentals that just by zoning escape the current system not to mention the multifamily units. There is no good reason that a portion of single family rentals were singled out and all others get off free.

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jhawkinsf 1 year, 8 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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jafs 1 year, 8 months ago

Have you rented in Lawrence recently?

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jhawkinsf 1 year, 8 months ago

Residential? No.

Commercial? Yes.

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jafs 1 year, 8 months ago

Ok, then I'll give you some info as somebody who's rented residential properties in Lawrence for a while.

There are a lot of crummy rentals, and they're overpriced as well. Most landlords I've had any experience with don't live up to their responsibilities, and some don't even know what they are.

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jhawkinsf 1 year, 8 months ago

I'm certain you're correct. Back in the day, I lived in every student ghetto house on Kentucky and Tennessee Streets. As long as you understand that increased inspectors will result in increased rents, I'm fine with it. That's the balance I spoke of.

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jafs 1 year, 8 months ago

Well, it might.

Certainly the question of how to pay for it is a good one.

We could disallow landlords from raising the rent to cover these costs, making them pay them as a cost of doing business. Or use some tax revenue instead of charging them for it. Or fine them for violations, and use that revenue to help pay for the costs of the program. Etc.

The current cost per rental unit is about $25/yr - that translates to about $2/month, which isn't a tremendous hardship for most renters.

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Katara 1 year, 8 months ago

You do understand that property improvement costs (enforced by code or not) are tax deductible and lower the overall tax burden a landlord has? The landlord has less reason to increase rents with increased inspections since they will see lower costs tax-wise.

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hedshrinker 1 year, 8 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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jafs 1 year, 8 months ago

No it doesn't.

It means, as pointed out, that there are many renters who are willing and able to pay more than is reasonable for their apartments, etc.

Probably in large part because their parents are paying for much of the rent for them.

This distorts normal market forces, especially when combined with a lack of knowledge and assertiveness about tenants' rights.

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jafs 1 year, 8 months ago

Let's call the whole thing off.

I'm not sure we are - I'm saying that prices are higher than reasonable, not that demand is high or supply is low.

And, that normal market forces would operate so as to bring those prices down, but that certain factors in Lawrence are skewing those forces in such a way that it doesn't happen.

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madameX 1 year, 8 months ago

"That is, we believe in allowing people to work together to solve problems and create wealth"

This would be great, if everyone actually did work together to solve problems and create wealth. But all too often, they don't. It may come as a surprise to you to learn that some people only look out for themselves, and if solving their own problems creates problems for others, or if creating their own wealth means depriving someone else, they are totally prepared to do that. In the case of rental properties in Lawrence, this means that if a landlord wants to set the rent way higher than it should be just because they want to have more money then they will. It is not necessarily an issue of supply and demand. There is plenty of supply (where I live, at least), and greed is what is driving up the price of rent. Landlords are choosing to overcharge because they can, and tenants don't have a lot of viable alternatives.

There is also nothing stopping people (in this case, landlords and tenants) from working together. If a landlord wants to tenant to sit down with his or her tenant and work out a reasonable rent based on costs to the landlord and the tenants's income, the can do that. Just because everyone else charges a certain amount doesn't make that amount mandatory. But so far I haven't heard of too many landlord choosing to do that.

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hipper_than_hip 1 year, 8 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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jhawkinsf 1 year, 8 months ago

You're assuming that significant problems exist with many of the newer build apartments. The flip side to your suggestion is that if the city hired, at significant costs, additional inspectors who then found few problems, the costs of those inspectors would be passed on to the very renters you're seeking to protect.

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Amy Heeter 1 year, 8 months ago

If the number of sub standard apartments and houses were reveled there would be a rental shortage in Lawrence.

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Richard Heckler 1 year, 8 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.

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somedude20 1 year, 8 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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somedude20 1 year, 8 months ago

No, I asked a very simple question of which you gave no answer (lots of pretty words though, nice).....If the poor live in an environment that makes them sick and they have no health insurance but go to LMH to get better, who pays for it.....them? God? Us? the people who commit voter fraud? Govt?

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headdoctor 1 year, 8 months ago

We are wasting our time somedude20 with Liberty One. He is clueless and inexperienced in matters of the real world. He will never give up his pipe dream of what he thinks things should be like and can not conceive that his textbook plans would only create chaos which is what he really prefers. Just on this thread alone he has banged heads already with people who are tenants or actual landlords who know what goes on in Lawrence. Even then he still wont listen.

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headdoctor 1 year, 8 months ago

That all you got, Liberty? Translation= I have no real life experience and nothing to come back on to sooth my debate bruises so I claim victory even though it is a hollow one.

Don't worry. You will eventually mature and realize that many times individual rights infringe on the rights of others. Our current system may not be the best. At least it provides a civil way to deal with those problems when they do occur. Some of this is just common sense and hopefully you will acquire some of that with maturity.

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headdoctor 1 year, 8 months ago

I see your lack of experience, maturity and common sense is really showing.

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Richard Heckler 1 year, 8 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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roadwarrior 1 year, 8 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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Boston_Corbett 1 year, 8 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, 8 months ago

good comment Corbett - I've seen property managers let properties run down so they can make a higher % of profit off managing more expensive repairs. The market punishes the owner with lower returns that benefit the manager in costly repair profits. See if those properties are being managed by a management company. The owner may not even be aware that reasonable maintenence work is being neglected. Sometimes the gamble by the manager backfires in that the owner is unable to afford the extensive repairs due to the managers negligence.

I don't know much about the rental registration program you refer to.

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swampyankee 1 year, 8 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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LivedinLawrence4Life 1 year, 8 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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jafs 1 year, 8 months ago

Just call them and ask them not to do that - problem solved.

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Kathy Getto 1 year, 8 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.

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Amy Heeter 1 year, 8 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, 8 months ago

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

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