Ensuring the safety and livability of rental properties is important in any city, but it’s especially important in a university town like Lawrence.
City commissioners decided last week to move forward on an expanded inspection program that, for the first time, will make every rental unit in the city subject to random inspection. Currently, routine inspections are conducted only in single-family neighborhoods. Properties in other areas are inspected only on request.
The goal is to inspect 10 percent of a landlord’s properties every three to five years. City officials currently inspect about 500 properties a year and expect the new program to add about 4,000 properties to the annual total. Landlords will pay a $10 licensing fee for every rental unit with discounts for complexes with more than 50 units. They also will pay a $50 fee for each inspection that is conducted. Those fees will help offset the costs of the program, which is expected to cost about $385,000 a year to operate.
It seems like a good investment for Lawrence to ensure quality rental housing not only for permanent residents but also for the many Kansas University students who make Lawrence their temporary home. Students need to be confident of the safety of their rental housing. It’s important to Lawrence’s image as a good university town for students — and the parents who may be paying the rent — not to feel exploited or ignored by landlords who don’t maintain their properties properly. This is important in all rental units but especially in the older neighborhoods on the east side of the KU campus.
For the new program to work, it needs to be fair to both tenants and landlords. Inspectors shouldn’t hesitate to cite landlords for deficiencies, but the city also needs a process that allows properties to be relicensed quickly after problems are corrected.
As Commissioner Bob Schumm noted at Tuesday’s meeting, “We want to find bad landlords and get them to correct their behavior.” That’s a good goal that the new rental registration and inspection program should help the city achieve.