Archive for Tuesday, December 3, 2013

ACLU expresses concern over city’s proposed rental inspection program

December 3, 2013


The Kansas chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union plans to open an investigation surrounding legal issues with the city's proposed rental licensing and inspection program, according to a letter from the group.

The ACLU letter was among a surge of opposition to the proposed citywide program, which is scheduled to be considered for approval by Lawrence City commissioners at their 6:35 p.m. meeting today.

City officials this afternoon posted to the City Commission's website nearly 40 letters of opposition from both landlords and tenants objecting to the ordinance, which would require a sampling of apartment units across the city to be inspected for health and safety code violations.

The letter from Doug Bonney, legal director of the ACLU Foundation of Kansas, expresses concern that city inspectors plan to video record and photograph certain elements of the inspection of rental units.

"Such practices or policies raise substantial Fourth Amendment questions," Bonney wrote to city officials.

The bulk of the letters city officials received in the last two days appear to be part of an organized opposition group. Many of them were the same letter but signed by different tenants of apartment complexes around town.

The city currently operates a rental inspection program for several thousand rental units that are in single-family zoned neighborhoods. That inspection program was upheld by federal courts after the program began in 2001.

The proposed program would expand the inspection program to all types of rental units in the city. As proposed, landlords would be subject to having 10 percent of their rental units inspected every three years under normal circumstances or every six years if the condition of the properties qualified them for a city incentive program.


Richard Heckler 4 years, 6 months ago

Mayor and City Commisioners,

First of all we know not all landlords are slum lords and all tenants are not terrible neighbors.

However there are multiple issues surrounding Rental Licensing.

What about the attack on market values of neighboring residential as a result of neglected properties and rowdy tenants?

What about noisy rowdy neighbors invading the peace and quiet of neighboring residents which is in and of itself an invasion of privacy?

What’s wrong with providing safer live in environments for tenants?

20,720 rental properties inhabit Lawrence,Kansas or about 58% of residential is rental property.

There are many communities surrounding Lawrence,Ks that have had regulations in place for many years. And at significantly larger fees to property owners.

It is my best thinking that inspectors have no right to barge in without consent. All of a sudden property owners are concerned for the privacy of pot smokers my how times have changed.

My speculation says the greater concern is property owners fear the expense of bringing business properties up to code. A legal business expense. Yet could increase property values which is a plus for the community as a whole.

What if a furnace has been red tagged yet never replaced? What if a roof is in disrepair and might cave in?

What if the sewer lines need a roto rooter? What if a porch is falling apart?

What if light fixtures need some attention?

What if smoke detectors need new batteries?

What if plumbing is a disaster?

Again What about the attack on market values of neighboring residential as a result of neglected properties and rowdy tenants? Rental licensing is the Fiscally Responsible Choice for Lawrence,Kansas.

Richard Heckler 4 years, 6 months ago

It also seems to me as a result of the ACLU stepping up this issue may need to be placed on the back burner once again.

Richard Heckler 4 years, 6 months ago

Only for review to remove any other possible ACLU concerns. Homeowners which are neighbors to neglected rental properties have rights as well. An area that seems not to be a primary area of discussion.

Addie Line 4 years, 6 months ago

As mentioned in other threads, what about the homes that are in disrepair that are not rentals? This problem is not limited to rentals. Many homes across town are in poor condition just judging from the outside. Why draw the line at rentals??

Amy Varoli Elliott 4 years, 6 months ago

Because people are making money off the rentals, it's a business and old be subject to regulations.

Richard Heckler 4 years, 6 months ago

The CC meeting last night met my expectation. The real estate industry controls city government.

Richard Heckler 4 years, 6 months ago

What is poor condition judging from an outside view?

Is a roof or porch about ready fall off? Are windows falling off? Is dry rot apparent?

Are these places housing noisy rowdy neighbors thus invading the peace and quiet of neighboring residents?

I know of a person that was reported to city hall for tall grass and not only had to mow his yard but was also forced to paint the house and such. This is not a rental property.

Richard Heckler 4 years, 6 months ago

Simply because Lawrence has 20,720 rental properties or about 58% of residential is rental property is not necessarily indicative that this makes up over 50% of the population. If there is a ton of vacant rental property in Lawrence,Kansas.

Matthew Herbert 4 years, 6 months ago

The number of vacant rentals in this town are few and far between- in 5 years of renting properties, the average time a property of mine has sat empty is a matter of days. 31 days was my all-time worst. I once had 12 applications on a house in under 24 houes of being listed. This means one of two things- 1) Either the vast majority of this town ARE renters, or: 2) the free market works without the need of regulation. Because I keep my houses in good shape, peole want them, they don't sit empty and I earn income on them. Act like a slumlord and the free market will work too- no one will want your house!

Richard Heckler 4 years, 6 months ago

The free market works without the need of regulation. No way. Tenants need regulations to support their issues should issues arise.

There are at least three very good landlords in our immediate area and two not so hot that I know of. The good landlords have some history of working with the neighbors after neighbors shared concerns.

Renters cannot know IF they are getting duped until they have moved in. How many slumlords are going to disclose " existing violations" on the contracts? There are a flood of new renters with each new KU freshman class. How would they know?

Diane Taylor 4 years, 6 months ago

Agreed, Richard. I have read various articles and threads regarding this issue, and it seems that no one has actually consulted the Kansas Landlord Tenant Act. If they had, they would know that management/owners legally have the right to enter with 24 hours written notice.

I generally make a concerted effort to be home, whenever maintenance work, etc. is to be done. It would seem logical that any inspection process would be bound by similar restrictions, and I would want to be there, during that time, as well. Hence, no privacy issues. Quite frankly, as a renter, I don't enjoy having strangers in my place, but it is one of the trade-offs for renting.

As for the free-market working without oversight, Herbert's post smacks of privilege, and Richard is exactly correct. I had no idea when I moved into my apartment that the basement would flood constantly, that appliances would not be fixed in a timely fashion, or that the roof would be left to rot, due to lack of gutter cleaning and property maintenance. All of these have been reported to the management, but if the OWNER doesn't approve the work, then it doesn't get done.

My refrigerator leaked for months, during which time I contacted management repeatedly. After a few quick fixes which didn't work, I was finally told that the fridge could not be replaced, because the OWNER didn't have the money to do it. This excuse for a building that brings in well over $1500 month in combined rent. I had three fridges go out in my previous apartment, and every one was replaced within two days. This is but a sampling of the many, many structural and/or maintenance issues I have encountered over years of renting and the differences in approach to rectifying the issues.

I even had a cable man tell me that in California, where he originally hailed, no rent increases were possible without that added money going directly into building improvements. That was well over 15 years ago, so clearly, other places were and continue to provide oversight to keep the market in check. One of the reasons that we currently have so many buildings with issues is precisely because no one has been keeping the market in check.

Should it really be up to me to take MY time and money to hire an attorney to ensure that OWNERS follow the law and rectify safety and maintenance issues? My answer is a resounding NO. Therefore, it is up to the local government to do so. Having inspectors in a building for one visit a year (or less frequently) with advanced warning is quite frankly no different than any other maintenance request and should be supported, not opposed.

Matthew Herbert 4 years, 6 months ago

the registration program wouldn't put an inspector in there every year, but every three. So, if your fridge goes out, don't worry - the rental registry program will catch that in 3 years...assuming the fridge is an inspection point (which I do not believe it is)

Matthew Herbert 4 years, 6 months ago

"should issues arise". Yes, they have that now - it's call city ordinances and codes. Under the rental registry program that is being discussed in this article however, the inspections will only be every three years. Are you suggesting that this solves a problem? Tell the tenant - "Hey, if an issue arises, don't worry, the property will be inspected in 3 years by the city". No. As it turns out, if an issue arises, your best bet would be to go through ALREADY EXISTING channels.

Diane Taylor 4 years, 6 months ago

Pretty sure you missed the entire point of my post.

Matthew Herbert 4 years, 6 months ago

let me try to sum up your post, so as to not miss the point. 1) Because you make a point of being home when people walk through your apartment ALL tenants surely must have the same luxury of taking off work at will (but remember it was my comment that screamed of privilege) and therefore there is no privacy issue. By your same logic, a police officer searching your property without probably cause is not a 4th amendment violation so long as you are present to see the abuse?
2) We need to inspect properties once every three years because you had a bad experience one time with a landlord and a safety inspector coming in once every three years would somehow have made that situation better than the status quo alternative of calling in a complaint to the the city office which will get an inspector out to your property immediately when needed....not once every three years. 3) You believe the free market can't regulate properly because a cable tv repairman told you a story about what California does

Richard Heckler 4 years, 6 months ago

The issue should have been passed as an ordinance. As time moved forward issues may surface that need some tweaking. So be it. Our planning director in so many words made this point. Good job.

I don't believe the current group of commissioners are so well endowed as to know exactly how this ordinance should be designed. This is a complex issue. In saying this I don't believe there is any group of commissioners that could know all no matter who the the commissioners might be.

The matter needs to be a hands on evaluation rather than total speculation. A ton of time has gone into this matter from a wide variety of intelligent and informed local citizens.

Richard Heckler 4 years, 6 months ago

If a landlord threatens a tenant with eviction over a code violation there is a flood of vacant rentals in Lawrence,Kansas every day.

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

--- Adopted Codes

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

-- 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)

Bob Smith 4 years, 6 months ago

Can't you tie this to the Koch brothers in some obtuse fashion, Richard?

Addie Line 4 years, 6 months ago

Richard, according to the other article on here, trash on the lawn would be flagged, so I suppose even that classifies as "poor condition" according to the city.

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