Here’s one thing landlords in Lawrence won’t need a license to do: Vent.
About 50 landlords showed up at City Hall Monday afternoon and gave city leaders an earful about a proposal that would expand the city’s rental registration and licensing program to cover essentially every rental unit in the city.
"I think it is just going overboard," said Rob Farha, a landlord in the Oread neighborhood. "Just like everything, there are good landlords and there are bad landlords. There are tools the city has now to deal with bad landlords."
City Hall leaders hosted a public forum on Monday to outline a proposal that would expand the city’s current rental registration and licensing program to encompass all 20,000 rental units in the city.
Currently, the city only inspects a fraction of those properties because it only requires registration for rentals that are in single-family zoned neighborhoods. The proposed program would require large apartment complexes to be licensed and would also cover the large rental districts around Kansas University.
The city’s current proposal is to charge all rental units in the city a $15 per year license fee. Landlords, though, would be subject to a $50 per unit inspection fee during the year in which their units are inspected. The city is designing the system so most units will be inspected once every three years.
The city, though, is proposing an incentive system where half of the inspection fee would be waived, if a low number of violations are found at a landlord’s properties.
The city is estimating that the program will generate about $550,000 in revenue each year and will have expenses of a little more than $525,000 a year.
“We don’t want the program to be a profit center, but we do want it to pay for itself,” Scott McCullough, the city’s director of planning and development services told the crowd.
A majority of city commissioners in November directed staff members to begin working on a plan to expand the city’s rental registration program. Commissioners said they were concerned the city’s current system was allowing too many renters — particularly students — to live in substandard conditions.
“I don’t ever want to be in a situation where I have to look a parent in the eye and apologize that they lost a child because an apartment wasn’t up to code,” Mayor Bob Schumm said Monday after listening to the comments. “That’s the bottom line for me.”
Schumm, though, acknowledged there are many good landlords in the city, and he understands that they are frustrated that they would be required to go through the rental and licensing process.
Several landlords told commissioners that if they are concerned about living conditions, they also should inspect owner-occupied homes for safety violations.
Other landlords said they simply wanted more information from the city.
“What are we trying to solve?” asked Matt Hoy, a Lawrence attorney representing the Lawrence Apartment Association, which includes some of the owners of the larger apartment complexes in town. “What are the issues that you think are creating problems. I don’t see that as being a paramount part of this proposal.”
City officials did provide a list of the type of violations inspectors would be looking for. They cover a wide range of possibilities. Minor violations include items such as: inoperable bathroom ventilation fans, clogged drains, broken handrails and even dirty furnace filters. Major violations include: barbecue grills on decks; improper ceiling heights; missing smoke detectors; and improperly vented furnaces or water heaters.
The meeting, though, also included a few neighborhood leaders who have been pushing for the expanded inspection program. Dan Dannenberg told the crowd that his neighborhood frequently had problems with renters leaving trash in their yards, illegally blocking sidewalks and other similar issues.
“It seems like the landlords ought to have to take some responsibility for this because they reap the rent checks,” Dannenberg said.
Staff members said Monday that they intend to present a plan to city commissioners by the end of this month. Monday’s meeting was the first public presentation staff members made of their proposal.
Among the details announced on Monday is the proposed inspection schedule for the program. The city is proposing a plan where not every unit in a large apartment would have to be inspected every three years. The proposal includes:
• Landlords with one to 10 units would have all their rental units inspected once every three years. If their properties total five or fewer minor violations they would receive a 50 percent refund on the city’s inspection fee.
• Landlords with 11 to 50 units would have the greater of 11 units or 50 percent of their units inspected once every three years. If their properties total 10 or fewer minor violations, they would receive a 50 percent refund on the city’s inspection fee.
• Landlords with 51 or more units would have 26 units or 33 percent of all their units inspected once every three year, whichever number is greater. If they have 20 violations or fewer, they would receive the 50 percent refund.