After months of negotiation, the city’s proposed rental registration ordinance is in danger of becoming so watered down that it won’t accomplish its intended goals.
Tonight, Lawrence city commissioners will consider an amended ordinance crafted by Mayor Mike Dever and Commissioner Mike Amyx that would drastically reduce the scope of the measure, which was intended to ensure that basic life, health and safety codes are being met in rental housing throughout the city. Concerned that the proposed ordinance had gotten too broad, Dever and Amyx took a marker to the plan, deleting more than half of the items for which a landlord could be cited.
In addition, Dever and Amyx want to put a sunset provision in the ordinance that would automatically end the inspection program at the end of 2017 unless commissioners at that time expressly extend the ordinance. The sunset provision seems to undermine enforcement of the ordinance and ensure a continuing political fight over its provisions. Why is the sunset necessary, when the commission can reconsider, alter and/or throw out the ordinance whenever they want? As Commissioner Jeremy Farmer pointed out, the sunset also risks having the city hire staff and bear other expenses to set up a program that could be abandoned in three or four years.
Although commissioners had said the scope of the registration law should include issues of health and safety, many of the 38 items Amyx and Dever deleted from a list of 66 possible violations clearly fall into that category. Handrails on balconies and decks, minimum ceiling heights on habitable rooms, proper venting for clothes dryers and safely installed plumbing fixture drains are among the deletions.
Also deleted are items of particular concern to neighboring property owners such as uncut grass and improperly parked vehicles. The deleted items, Dever pointed out, are still covered by city code and inspectors can note violations, but landlords would only face fines not the possibility of losing their rental licenses for the property.
That philosophy isn’t much different than saying Lawrence really doesn’t need a rental registration/inspection program because tenants already can report violations and request an inspection whenever they want. The purpose of having an ordinance was to set a higher, more stiffly enforced standard for safety and maintenance of rental property for the benefit of both tenants and neighboring property owners.
The proposed changes seem to compromise that goal. Commissioners should carefully consider at this point whether such an ordinance achieves what they intended it to achieve.