City provides more details on rental registration program

From dirty furnace filters to leaky roofs, Lawrence landlords may want to start making a list and checking it twice.

City inspectors are moving closer to checking every rental unit in the city for those types of violations and a whole lot more.

The city will hold a meeting from 5-6 p.m. on Wednesday at Lawrence City Hall to go over the type of violations the city will be looking for and how often city inspectors will visit properties after a proposed rental registration and licensing program begins, probably in early 2014.

“We’re planning to do a lot of public outreach before this begins, and our hope is that landlords will look at these issues and start being proactive to get their properties in good condition,” said Brian Jimenez, the city’s code enforcement manager.

Here’s a look at some of the key details.

• All rental properties must register with the city once a year. Properties will be charged an annual license fee based on how many rental units they have to register. The fee schedule includes: $10 per dwelling unit for properties with 1 to 50 units; $9 per dwelling unit for properties with 51 to 100 units; $8 per unit for properties 101 to 150 units; $7 per dwelling unit for 151 units or more.

• Owners of rental property must have a local address within 40 miles of the city, or appoint a resident manager who lives within 40 miles of the city. The resident manager must have the legal authority to receive legal summons and other notices from the city.

• The city will create a system to inspect rental properties once every three years. Apartment complexes will have a sampling of their properties inspected. The city will inspect 10 percent of the units on a single property or up to 15 units. If a major violation is found in any of the units, the city inspector will have the immediate right to inspect an additional 10 percent of the units on the property.

• Landlords will pay a $50 per unit fee for every unit that is inspected by the city. Landlords also are liable for a $25 re-scheduling fee, if a landlord fails to show up for a city inspection.

• City officials have created a list of minor and major violations that could be found in rental units. Minor violations include: BBQ grill on deck; inoperable bathroom ventilation fan; clogged drain; cracked window; dirty furnace filter; poorly fitting doors; missing electrical panel door; extension cords used for permanent power source; small areas of mold or fungus; faulty ground fault electric outlets; violations of the city’s grass and weed ordinance; faulty handrails; inadequate storm drainage; leaky plumbing fixtures; broken light switch covers; inoperable smoke detectors; inoperable windows; missing window screens; small areas of rotting exterior siding or trim; yard trash or debris.

Major violations include: Over occupancy of a unit; backed up sewer line; improper ceiling heights; lack of deadbolt locks; improper dryer vents; improper egress for bedrooms; exposed or frayed electrical wiring; improper fire escapes; large area of mold or fungus; improperly vented furnace or water heater; no smoke detectors; roof leaks; structural deficiencies; windows without locks; large areas of rotting siding or trim.

The city also will take into consideration whether a tenant created the violation. If a landlord can show the tenant created the violation, that violation will have to be fixed but won’t be counted as violation that goes on the landlord’s record.

The proposed code gives city officials the authority to decline to issue or renew a rental license until violations at the property have been corrected. No property can be rented without a license. For violations that are deemed severe, the code gives city inspectors and the city’s Building Code Board of Appeals the authority to revoke a rental license, and to declare the property ineligible to receive a license for two years.

Jimenez said such revocations would be rare. The city has the same authority under its current inspection program for rental units in single family neighborhoods, but he said the city has not revoked any licenses under that system.

Instead, Jimenez said the city focuses on getting violations fixed.

“I think this is going to create a system where we’ll be able to identify where the bad properties are in the community, and really focus on getting them improved,” Jimenez said.

He said the system also is designed to reward landlords who keep their properties in good shape. If a property is inspected and averages five or fewer minor violations per unit, it won’t be required to be re-inspected for a period of six years.

Currently, the city only routinely inspects rental properties that are in single family-zoned neighborhoods. Rental inspections in other neighborhoods are done on a complaint basis.

City commissioners already have approved funding to create the rental registration and licensing program. But commissioners must still approve the ordinance and specific rules. Jimenez said that the ordinance could be presented to commissioners within the next month, depending on the feedback his department receives at Wednesday’s meeting.

Funding for the program will begin in 2014. Jimenez said the city is likely to try to have the program operational by early 2014.