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Archive for Saturday, August 24, 2013

For tenants and landlords, knowledge is power

August 24, 2013

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The occasional landlord-tenant dispute is to be expected in a town like Lawrence, where more than half of all housing units are occupied by renters.

Landlords must trust relative strangers to take care of their property, and renters can feel helpless if a problem arises in their homes. While the city’s proposed rental-unit inspection program aims to mediate some of the landlord-tenant tension, complicated leases still can lead to confusion about who is responsible for what. The best advice for everyone: Know the law and your rights.

‘As a tenant, I have rights.’

Recent Kansas University graduate Jenna Jakowatz spent part of her last months in Lawrence researching state rental laws. Since last August, she had experienced escalating issues with the company managing her apartment.

After trying and failing to resolve several issues, including a last-minute increase in rent, unexpected renovation noise and a broken air conditioner, Jakowatz and her roommate sought advice from a staff attorney with Legal Services for Students.

In June, as the temperature became warm enough to make the apartment uncomfortable, Jakowatz used advice from her lawyer and mentioned a 14-day/30-day notice to her property management company. That allows a tenant to terminate a lease in 30 days if the landlord fails to repair a problem within two weeks.

After she mentioned the notice, Jakowatz received a new air conditioner, an accomplishment after almost a year of frustration.

“The most important thing I am taking away from this situation is that I now know how to deal with a landlord who won’t resolve issues,” Jakowatz said. “As a tenant, I have rights.”

More inspections coming

Currently, only properties in neighborhoods zoned for single-family homes are inspected routinely by the city. The city’s new rental registration and licensing program, tentatively set to begin in early 2014, will send city inspectors to rental properties once every three years to check for housing code violations such as mold, fungus, clogged drains or roof leaks.

Bill Larzalere, chief litigation attorney with Legal Services for Students, said the increased inspections will benefit renters. “Inspectors can really go out and act quickly,” Larzalere said.

But just because all rental properties aren’t inspected regularly now doesn’t mean they're all neglected. Director of Morning Star Management Paul Horvath said most landlords do check their properties frequently and the new inspection program won’t necessarily be a huge change.

“The city is always coming up with new regulations,” Horvath said. “We check to make sure we’re up to code pretty regularly. I mean, they’re your properties; you take care of them.”

The landlord’s gamble

Renters are not always the victims in landlord-tenant disputes. Horvath said property owners are often the ones with the most to lose.

“Most of our properties are worth $100,000,” Horvath said. “It’s like you lend your $10,000 car to someone and who’s more at risk: the person who borrows your vehicle or the owner?”

To better ensure that their properties will be handled with care, Horvath said, Morning Star Management screens rental applicants. Still, unforeseen problems can arise.

“Every landlord has a tenant horror story,” Horvath said. “I know of one property where the tenant’s cats had so sprayed the kitchen that the landlord had to totally pull out all of the cabinets and replace them.”

Repairing damage can be costly. While landlords can keep the security deposit, some fixes can be more expensive than the law allows them to charge in deposit - 1 1/2 month’s rent.

Horvath said that in cases where a rental unit is left in extreme distress, landlords often have their hands tied.

“Landlords are really limited by how much they can do, especially if a tenant skips town after move-out,” Horvath said. “You can try to track them down to make them pay or to take them to court, but that could take months.”

To avoid problems, tenants and landords can familiarize themselves with the law.

For tenants who have just begun their annual leases, here are some things to keep in mind:

Read - and get a copy of - your lease.

Though hasty renters may not want to bother with the fine print, leasing agreements are legally binding. If you sign something, be prepared to follow through.

It is easy to forget all the lease requirements, so having a copy on hand could save some trouble.

“It’s a good way to protect yourself," Larzalere said.

Know your legal responsibilities.

Tenants are responsible for any destruction, defacement or removal of any part of your rented residence, even if caused by a guest or a pet.

Landlords may charge for damages that exceed normal “wear and tear.”

"There will always be some carpet dirt or marks on the wall, but we only charge for damage that is beyond 'lived-in.''" said Candy Gunderson, property manager of Garber Property Management.

Know your landlord’s legal responsibilities.

Landlords must comply with building and housing codes. They must also maintain all electrical, plumbing, sanitary, heating, ventilating and air-conditioning appliances that come with the apartment or house.

If there is a problem with the condition of the apartment or if something is not working, contact your landlord. If the landlord does not fix the problem in a reasonable amount of time, Larzalere advises contacting the city code inspector.

Know your rights

If a security deposit or a list of charges isn’t sent within 30 days of the lease's end, or if a tenant believes charges are wrong, Larzalere said to contact the landlord or management company first. If that doesn’t work, seeking legal aid would be the next step.

When dealing with security deposits, tenants may file a lawsuit in small claims court for the amount of the deposit plus an additional one and a half times the deposit amount.

“Know your rights by looking at the Kansas Residential Tenant Landlord Act,” Larzalere said. “Know your rights, and always talk to the landlord first.”

Comments

IndusRiver 7 months, 3 weeks ago

Correction: the landlord pays the city...

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IndusRiver 7 months, 3 weeks ago

When HUD allows housing authorities to become MTW agencies -- moving to work -- it removes a lot of oversight which then leads to a housing authority writing its own policies/rules. Money pours down like rain, but abuse and neglect creep in. The city of Lawrence, every year, pays out a six-digit figure to the city that they are not even legally bouenough testimonials on this thread as to what it's like to try and take the trash out in their little world.

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acg 7 months, 3 weeks ago

Let me tell you the first rule of tenant/landlord relations in Lawrence. Stay Away From FMI Properties!! As someone who worked for, and quit working for, Doug E Fresh, I know from first hand experience that you will be completely used and abused as a tenant there. I had to ask permission with a requisition form for parts to fix appliances (and it was generally turned down), all of his properties that aren't on Mass (or Saddlebrook at 6th) are pieces of crap. Highpointe is nasty. The ones on 19th are infested!! Anything on campus is disgusting and he refused to let me replace carpets or linoleums. And that skank at his office told me once "if you're doing your job, when they move out they should get back little to none of their deposit" when she didn't like the way I let residents have their deposits back when they moved. Seriously, parents don't let your kids rent from that slumlord.

As for Paul Horvath I also worked for him for a week. When I saw how bad he was in debt and how he was robbing Peter to pay Paul I was dumbfounded that anyone could run a business like this. Then when it turns out he couldn't even pay ME, I knew it was time to hit the bricks there.

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smileydog 7 months, 3 weeks ago

I worked for a greedy landlord that had spoiled rotten tenants, a match made in hell. The landlord was cheap and the tenants were trust fund KU students. The Landlord used the cheapest flat white paint money could buy so if you were to touch the walls the oil from your hands would magically leave a black mark on the wall, so the apartments always would have to be repainted. The tenants were just as bad though. If there was a drip coming from the faucet it was worth a 4 am phone call, however, if the hot water heater was leaking into the living room it would take a couple of weeks before the tenant would report it. Since the tenants were trust fund brats, they would always threaten to sue for things like the drippy faucet but a leaking hot water tank wasn't a big deal. I never did understand the mentality of either. The landlord was female and used to make derogatory sexual harrassment remarks but it was okay and legal since I am a guy. No such thing as reverse dicrimination. Fun times but luckily I quit right before tenant turnover.

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otto 7 months, 3 weeks ago

Tenants ruin good landlords.

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justforfun 7 months, 3 weeks ago

Jenna

Wonder why you didn't mention that heating and air conditioning personal were at your apt each time you called to try and fix a/c issue? They always reported it was working as it should. (never was operating above 80 degrees of top floor apt) Wonder why you didn't mention that contractor blew a foot of insulation in the attic to try and help matters?

Caitlin Doornbos & Nicole Wentling — Lawrence Journal-World- I would suggest that just because Jenna writes for daily Kansan you dont take everything at face value.

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Kansas_Native 7 months, 3 weeks ago

I'm not sure that we should be looking to Paul Horvath as the authority or representative of landlords/property managers here in Lawrence. As someone who has had the majority of his properties taken back by the bank in foreclosure and currently owes back taxes on the few remaining properties he has. I used to live on a block with two of his properties--historic homes that he let fall in to such a state of disrepair that they were taken back by the bank, sold at bottom dollar and required to be gutted and rehabbed. He never mowed the lawn, he didn't shovel snow, and had animals living in the soffits of the house. The bathrooms had mold, the floor joists were eaten by termites. This isn't unique to just one of his properties. Ask around town and everyone has their Horvath nightmare to share...I'd suggest the ljworld find a better rep for landlords in the future. I now own a couple of properties and am certainly not up in arms about an inspection every three years. I'd welcome the city to ensure that I'm providing clean, safe, and code-abiding homes to my tenants--as every tenant deserves. I can attest that it should not be hard to provide excellent housing, maintaining properties to excellent standards and still profit--it simply requires foresight to save a bit of that profit for maintanence and repairs. Slightly lower profit, but everyone wins. In the case of Horvath's model it seems everyone loses, his tenants, the neighborhood, the city, and eventually even citi bank lenders and himself.

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Beer Guy 7 months, 3 weeks ago

No one here cares about tenant rights. What if my landlord keeps everything prefect and up to date. What if I have a new roof, new paint inside and out, and new appliances. Don't I have a right to my 4th amendment rights without the city getting a lock smith and warrant to search my home?

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IndusRiver 7 months, 3 weeks ago

Nothing in regard to this subject is about the here and now neccessarily but what the damage already done is. And too many people choose to be homeless or sheltered if the only option for housing is to rent. So what if Lawrence has a hundred vacancies a thousand. So what.

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Richard Heckler 7 months, 3 weeks ago

Just so we know there are some landlords behind this push for stronger and more detailed inspection program.

Rental properties are long term investments for the owners who are allowing renters to finance their investment projects. Can we say win win for the property owners.

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Mike Myers 7 months, 3 weeks ago

Horvath said. “We check to make sure we’re up to code pretty regularly. I mean, they’re your properties; you take care of them.”

Good one.

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Richard Heckler 7 months, 3 weeks ago

Tenants are landlords keeping YOUR home up to code?

-- Property Maintenance Code. http://www.lawrenceks.org/city_code/system/files/chapter09.pdf Article 5 and Article 6

If a landlord threatens a tenant with eviction there is a flood of vacant rentals in Lawrence,Kansas every day .... yes 24/7.

http://www.lawrenceks.org/pds/code_enforcement (covers the following:) The Code Enforcement Division enforces the Property Maintenance Code, Environmental Code, Weed Code, Sign Code, and Zoning Code. This division also oversees the Rental Inspection Program, environmental/structural blight, grass/weed complaints, zoning and land use regulations including site plan inspections of residential and commerical properties.

Applications and Forms

--- Report a Code Violation http://www.lawrenceks.org/pds/code_enforcement

Adopted Codes

-- Disorderly/Nuisance House Ordinance (Chapter 14, Article 11) - For neighborhoods!

-- Environmental Code (Chapter 9, Article 6).

-- Property Maintenance Code (Chapter 5, Article 10).

-- Rental Housing Ordinance (Chapter 6, Article 13).

-- Walls, Fence and other Structures Ordinance.

-- Weeds Ordinance (Chapter 18, Article 3).

-- Zoning Enforcement (Land Development Code - Chapter 20).

http://www.lawrenceks.org/pds/code_enforcement

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Richard Heckler 7 months, 3 weeks ago

The issue for many landlords is the thought of bringing properties up to code after several years of neglect. The cost of this inspection program to landlords is $25.00 a year or less. The lowest cost of any inspection program probably in the state of Kansas. Several nearby communities have had this tool in place for many years.

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Richard Heckler 7 months, 3 weeks ago

So many of Lawrence ordinances are enforced by calling in a complaint and in this situation is on the back of whomever files a complaint.

I suspect that no matter what this new expanded inspection plan will be left to neighbors and/or tenants to encourage enforcement. Aka business as usual. Aka lip service.

Nonetheless it will be to the in the tenants best interest. If landlords threaten or do evict a tenant for filing a complaint one thing to keep in mind is Lawrence is flooded with vacant rental properties 24/7. In essence Lawrence has a renters market so let the cost of rent negotiation begin.

This is also in the best interest of neighborhoods. Landlord neglected properties are among the worst which will negatively impact property values.

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Tandava 7 months, 3 weeks ago

There is a really great organization around here that helps both tenants and landlords understand their rights, what the law says, what recourse they have to problems, and so on. That organization is Housing and Credit Counseling, Inc. (HCCI). Their advice is free, and often better than an attorney's. (It has been a long time since I have used them, so I hope what I am saying is still true.) It was a small failing that this article did not mention HCCI.

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Laura Wilson 7 months, 3 weeks ago

Wow, you interviewed one of the worst landlords in town and just believed him. Maybe you should have talked to some of his former tenants to get the real story.

There are many, many decent landlords in this town, who fix problems quickly, are attentive and responsive to their tenants, and follow the law. Unfortunately the few bad ones make them all look bad and are the reason we'll have this new inspection process which is going to be a cost burden on all of us.

Learn the law, what your rights are as both landlord and tenant, and the procedures to deal with problems. Kudos to the person who actually sought legal advice and the 14/30 process rather than just not pay rent or move out without notice, both of which are violations of rental contracts.

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IndusRiver 7 months, 3 weeks ago

I had refused to submit my paperwork to lease my apartment for one more year so my landlord rigged an eviction. Never heard of anything so devious in recent memory. But I left Lawrence and I left the landlord with something to actually cry about. I don't believe tenants will ever have rights in that loony blue liberal town. Too much money passes between the City and its rental guru's.

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Number_1_Grandma 7 months, 3 weeks ago

Funny that Morning Star Management Paul Horvath is quoted in this article; as he is one of the worst landlords and probably why the city has gone to rental inspections in the first place. I am against the city rental inspections but with landlords like Horvath, the city will have rental inspections!

:)

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George_Braziller 7 months, 3 weeks ago

My neighbor tried for six months to get the leaking roof repaired so she didn't have to put a bucket on the top of the fridge to catch the water when it rained. Pieces of the ceiling fell down, the heater didn't work, there wasn't a fire extinguisher or a smoke detector, and the shower leaked. The final straw was when she turned on the ceiling fan and sparks shot out of it and the switch. I was there and saw it. She called the city to have an inspection done and when the landlord found out he evicted her because she was "a nuisance tenant."

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Bursting 7 months, 3 weeks ago

We do not need a rental-inspection program. Sorry guys, people should be competent enough to know a bit about leases and landlord-tenant laws when renting.

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jafs 7 months, 3 weeks ago

I believe that Morninstar's director is named Horvath.

And, it's been a long time, but when we looked at some of their properties many years ago, they were very run down and neglected.

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