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City agrees to expand rental inspection program to all areas of Lawrence

June 25, 2013

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From mold on the ceiling to faulty smoke alarms, problems in rental properties across the city soon will be more likely to be caught by city inspectors.

Lawrence city commissioners on Tuesday agreed to move forward with a program that for the first time makes every rental unit in the city subject to random inspection. The program, which is expected to begin by late next year, would add about 4,000 apartment inspections each year.

“We want to find bad landlords and get them to correct their behavior,” City Commissioner Bob Schumm said. “This is about the health, safety and welfare of our citizens.”

The city currently operates a rental licensing and inspection program, but it only covers rentals in single-family neighborhoods. The existing program produces about 500 inspections a year. The new program will cover rentals in all types of zoning designations and neighborhoods.

The program, estimated to cost about $385,000 per year to operate, won’t result in every rental unit in the city being inspected every year. As proposed, the program would seek to inspect 10 percent of a landlord’s properties either every three years or every five years. Three years would be the standard time period, but a landlord that has very few violations could go up to five years before a follow-up inspection of their properties.

Other details of the program include:

• Landlords would pay a $10 licensing fee for every rental unit they have in the city, although larger apartment complexes would get a volume discount. Complexes with 51 to 100 units would receive a 10 percent discount, 101 to 150 units a 20 percent discount and complexes with more than 150 units a 30 percent discount.

• Landlords would pay a $50-per-unit inspection fee in the years that their properties are being checked, and only would have to pay it for the number of units actually being inspected.

• Large apartment complexes would have a cap on the number of units that officials will inspect at any given time. Complexes would either have 10 percent of their units inspected or 15 total units, whichever number is smaller.

• The city is projecting it will hire three new inspectors and two new administrative assistants in the development services division to operate the new program.

Commissioners approved the inspection program, which has been in discussion for more than five years, on a 4-1 vote.

Commissioner Mike Amyx voted against the proposal. He said he could support the registration part of the program but was concerned about adding city employees to do inspections. He noted that tenants currently can call the city and ask for an inspection, if they believe there is a problem at their rental unit.

“I’m just not comfortable increasing this level of government,” Amyx said.

But several neighborhood representatives spoke in favor of the program.

“Nobody wants to hurt the people who are good landlords,” said Candice Davis, a resident of the Oread neighborhood. “But there are problems out there. It is just like a restaurant. All restaurants have inspections for public safety. Rentals ought to as well.”

Opposition from the landlord community was fairly muted on Tuesday. A representative from the Lawrence Apartment Association asked the city to provide more breaks on registration fees for large complexes, and to reconsider whether the city is ready to start undertaking the thousands of additional inspections per year that will be required by the program.

City commissioners must still formalize all the details of the program with a new ordinance, which probably will come to the City Commission for approval in the next couple of months. But City Manager David Corliss said money for the new program will be included in the 2014 budget.

In other business, commissioners:

• Unanimously agreed to focus on a location at 925 Iowa Street to house a new public transit hub. Commissioners rejected the idea of locating a transit hub on the grounds of Kansas University’s Memorial Stadium.

• Unanimously directed the city auditor to examine the processes the city is using to ensure it is paying a fair price for about $12 million worth of infrastructure and other construction costs at the Rock Chalk Park sports complex in northwest Lawrence. The auditor also was directed to prepare audits on the financial condition of the city, workload demands for the Lawrence Police Department, the condition of city sidewalks and the efficiency of the downtown parking system.

• Told staff members to continue moving forward on an agreement with the Kansas Department of Transportation that would relieve the state of maintenance responsibilities on the portion of U.S. Highway 40 that also is Sixth Street between Iowa Street and Wakarusa Drive. The agreement would provide the city with state funding for about $3.5 million worth of road projects in exchange for the state dropping its maintenance responsibilities.

Comments

Beer Guy 9 months, 3 weeks ago

This is pure discrimination against poor people who cant own a home. And if your too low income it makes a great excuse for Lawrence to kick both you and the landlord out of town. I bet these "random" searches will be mostly in the poorest neighborhoods or trailer parks. Welcome to Lawrence where 4th amendment rights only exist to rich land owners.

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Loretta James 9 months, 3 weeks ago

their are plenty of slumlords in lawrence. the tenants stay because most stay because they sign a lease for a year and if they move they lose their deposit. my grandson lived in the walnut trailer court, his trailer was condemed and he was given 4 days to move and their are a lot more in the same shape as that one look at the one behind johnnys. you can tell from the outside their are going to be multiple violations inside.

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cheeseburger 9 months, 3 weeks ago

'The city is projecting it will hire three new inspectors and two new administrative assistants in the development services division to operate the new program.' Cost: $385,000.

Absolutely ridiculous!

Is Amyx the only one with a modicum of common sense?

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oneeye_wilbur 9 months, 3 weeks ago

So staff verifies the exterior conditions? Guess a lot of families, aka owner occupied are in trouble when that list gets prepared.

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Richard Heckler 9 months, 3 weeks ago

What is the inspector looking for?

The inspector verifies the dwelling unit complies with the minimum code standards outlined in the City's International Property Maintenance Code, 2012 Edition. Staff also verifies the exterior property conditions comply with the City's Environmental Code and other applicable city code.

FAQ's http://www.lawrenceks.org/pds/rental_faqs#rfee

Codes http://www.lawrenceks.org/city_code/system/files/chapter05.pdf

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jhawkinsf 9 months, 3 weeks ago

To be honest, there are some pretty sub-standard housing units in this town that are inhabited by people on the fringes of society who are unable to pay any more than the small amounts currently being charged. Force a landlord to make expensive renovations, with the costs being passed on and those currently living there will be displaced. Or the landlord will simply take the unit off the market, also displacing current tenants.

That, and I hear the shelter is nearly full. I see more unintended consequences than the problem is worth.

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oneeye_wilbur 9 months, 3 weeks ago

Marty Kennedy had the answer. " you want the bulldozer" ? Sure!

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Richard Heckler 9 months, 3 weeks ago

20,720 rental properties@ $25.00 per year = $518,000 a year. About $2.10 per month per unit.

20,720 rental properties @ $20.00 per year = $414,400 a year. About $1.67 per month per unit.

20,720 rental properties @ $10.00 per year = $207,200 a year. About 84 cents per month per unit.

It isn't the cost of the program that's troubling some landlords. The concern is more about bringing properties up to code as they should be. Then again if the properties are maintained to code 24/7 what is all the fret about? Landlords are home free.

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Richard Heckler 9 months, 3 weeks ago

Remember it is the less responsible landlords that have brought this issue to the forefront and the demand for regulation. Nearby surrounding communities have these regulations that come with much much higher fees which is to say $25 would still be a bargain.

The fees and such will cover the cost of inspectors and equipment.... according to city hall.

58% of Lawrence residential is rental. 5,605 rent for $500 - $749. / 6,307 rent for $750-$999. /4,644 rent for $1,000 - $1,499. / 1,483 rent for $1500 or more. This represents 18,039 rental properties out of a total of 20,720 properties. This information comes from a City of Lawrence publication dated February 2012.

Yes there is a fair amount of money being made.

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ontheright 9 months, 3 weeks ago

This will do nothing more than add to the City salary cost!

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oneeye_wilbur 9 months, 3 weeks ago

Look at the inspectors. Are they really that credible?

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Matthew Herbert 9 months, 3 weeks ago

The obvious mistake in judgment here is that the city has never done anything to FORCE registration. The end results are that good landlords sign up and bad ones don't. Your really bad violators don't stop violating because of this program which is truly little more than voluntary at this point. I just had 5 properties inspected last month by the city and can say that they do indeed look at way more than just "safety" issues. At one point the inspector grabbed the toilet and tried to wiggle it loose to check to make sure the bolts were fastened properly. Seriously?

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ontheright 9 months, 3 weeks ago

YEAH! More government and more salaries/insurance to pay!

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toe 9 months, 3 weeks ago

More government workers fed from the labors of the tax generators. A perfect score for Lawrence. Will the inspections include the dorms at KU? Those dorms are a real disaster.

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msezdsit 9 months, 3 weeks ago

“We want to find bad landlords and get them to correct their behavior,” City Commissioner Bob Schumm said.

At a small profit to the city. I think this is kind of a kick in the shins to the "good landlords" but it may also serve to level the playing field some what. The good landlords pay the cost for the improvements required to maintain their property and the slum lords save that money and this allows them to lower their rent rates if they choose. The tenants will ultimately pay for this but hopefully it assures they will have a safe and healthy home. To bad they just don't have a law against being a slum lord.

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patkindle 9 months, 3 weeks ago

the city knows whats best for everyone just pay your money and move along

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oneeye_wilbur 9 months, 3 weeks ago

There is not much profit as some believe in owning rentals. I know of an owner who rents to a tenant a house for $750 a month. That comes to $9,000 a year. The taxes and insurance come to $3,500 a year, the owner puts 200 a month in reserve for repairs, havc,roof replacement, that is another $2,400. So now the owner has expense of $5,900 a year. Leaving $3,100 return, taxable, on a property the county values at $150,000.

Guess what, the owner will sell the place, pay the capital gains tax and walk away with over $130,000 and put the money in money arket, $100,000 of it and $30,000 in a certain stock paying 8% dividend. Returning the same as renting with no hassle, liquidity, and no intrusion from ALL commissioners and Candace Davis.

Eat your heart out Merrill. Why would any one want to own rentals in Lawrence when the commission has fully failed to keep up the city's end of maintaining the neighborhoods.

This is about McCullough making a name for himself and the city seeking revenue. As for the commissioners, they pass this because they can, they don't have much to offer otherwise.

The large apt complexes geta discount ahaha. 10%. A dollar off.

In the end Candace , sadly, will be like Schumm, Dever, Amyx, Riordan, and Farmer, not remembered anymore than Binns, Argersinger, Nalbandian, Owens, Henry, Pence, even Schontz.

Pioneer Ridge, Brandon Woods, Meadowlark, make no exception for "achievements" or "failures"

Something is very strange that Amyx votes NO and not one of the other four respect his position? It only takes three votes to pass something.

???

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joes_donuts 9 months, 3 weeks ago

As a tenant, I am just going to refuse the city entry into my dwelling. My landlord takes good care of his properties, so I don't need a stranger looking through my underwear. If they want to go to court, so be it but by the time the case is heard I will be living in another city. Without probable cause, I don't think they have the authority to enter my home.

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beezee 9 months, 3 weeks ago

This program is a waste of time and money. And a total fabrication of "needs." All they have to do is publicize to TENANTS how to lodge a complaint about true poor conditions, and then send inspectors to address that specific issue.

But NOOOOO.... not here in Lawland, where "we legislate before thinking." So my solution will be to, at the first ping of aggravation, remove a very affordable and NICE rental from the market. Maybe the family renting can go live in City Hall. Income isn't my main reason for owning it.

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Dan Blomgren 9 months, 3 weeks ago

Tenants should obviously take up rental issues with their landlord first. If the problem isn't corrected in a timely fashion then report them to a committee who looks into the matter. If the landlord is found negligent then he pays for the repairs, or faces further penalties, and pays a fine for being a poor landlord. Let the violators pay the fee but to assess everyone a fine including the good landlords is wrong. I've owned rental property in this town for 20 years, and everyone of my tenants is being taken care above what is expected. I'm already doing it 'right' so why do I get the hit? The abusers probably account for 10% of the landlords in this or any town. Fine them, but leave honest, good landlords like me alone. Have a sliding scale that as the complaints increase on a particular landlords property the fine is increased as well. Not to mention the city won't be wasting their time inspecting 90% of the rentals that are totally fine.

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jhawk1998 9 months, 3 weeks ago

Why isn't the Amtrak depot being considered for the transportation hub? somewhat out of the way yet very near downtown and links with an out-of-town transit system.

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Keith Richards 9 months, 3 weeks ago

Someone please correct me if I am wrong, but didn't the city spend 10's of thousands of dollars on a consultant to tell them where to put the transit hub. Then they decided where to put it themselves, which they should have done in the first place. Great waste of taxpayer money.

Wasteful Spending

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Richard Heckler 9 months, 3 weeks ago

"• Told staff members to continue moving forward on an agreement with the Kansas Department of Transportation that would relieve the state of maintenance responsibilities on the portion of U.S. Highway 40 that also is Sixth Street between Iowa Street and Wakarusa Drive. The agreement would provide the city with state funding for about $3.5 million worth of road projects in exchange for the state dropping its maintenance responsibilities."

A back door tax increase. Yes Lawrence taxpayers will contributing tax dollars to support the construction of the SLT by way of losing state tax dollar support for 6th street and 23rd street. This back door increase is not news necessarily. No one has talked about it much over the past 20 years. The matter would surface from time to time during public hearings.

Yes we local taxpayers have just been awarded full tax dollar responsibility to maintain these heavily traveled streets.

It's more like beyond Wakarusa and beyond K-10 as developers begin further over saturation of Lawrence markets which will require more miles of roads and plenty other new infrastructure.

1

Larrytown 9 months, 3 weeks ago

In a perfect world....the rental inspections should not be necessary. Unfortunately, you have many, many properties around Lawrence that are in need of repairs. The rental inspection program is looooooooong overdue.

In the immediate future, you will see improved properties (i.e. increased property values), lazy landlords run out of the business, improved safety, and more direct money placed back in the economy (i.e. money spent at home improvements stores).

Amyz is a pretty reasonable guy...but he missed the boat on the big picture. The City will get their $385K back...and then some.

Also...glad to see the oversight by the City Auditor as it relates $12M infrastructure at the complex. If there are no problems with the pricing...let's continue to move forward with the project. If there are material problems with the pricing...that's an entirely different story.

5

LJ Whirled 9 months, 3 weeks ago

Raising rents, raising taxes, growing government, shrinking privacy. Ah, the Obama Years!

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friendlyjhawk 9 months, 3 weeks ago

City Commission is always there with you too. Hands in your pocket whenever they get a chance to do something for your own good. Tenants will be the ones paying for this upgrade, not landlords.

2

bballwizard 9 months, 3 weeks ago

Big Brother is always there for you ??

1

justforfun 9 months, 3 weeks ago

Well I hope all you tenents dont mind all the people that will enter to do work on units. Oh and by the way that aplication fee just went up $50. Sorry bout that. Regards City Commissioners

1

none2 9 months, 3 weeks ago

While my preference would have been to get rid of this government intrusion all together, but at least now it applies to all and not just picking on landlords in single family neighborhoods.

Still something is not clear: First of all the current Licenses fee is currently $25.00 per year -- regardless if it is the 3rd year and time for an inspection. So that means $75.00 every three years. is spent. Is it now going to drop to $10.00 (non inspection year 1) $10.00 (non inspection year 2), $50.00 (inspection year 3) for a total of $70.00 spent every three years? Is that savings of $5.00 from the current 3 year licenses costs going to be passed on to landlords in the single family neighborhoods?

Another question is why are the large landlords getting a discount? You still have to go into each dwelling to inspect it, so are you going to do less thorough inspections for the large landlords? It seems in inherently unfair why there is a volume discount. Would you give a local sales tax discount if someone spends over X amount of dollars? Do you give property tax (or personal property) tax discounts if someone has multiple properties (or cars)? If not, then why would you give discounts on fees? Was this done because the commission is buddy buddy with some of the larger landlords?

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q_ball2kand1 9 months, 3 weeks ago

Thank you Mike Amyx for recognizing my capability to manage my residence. In this article, I see the words: landlord, inspector, and rental unit many times, but nowhere do I see the privacy rights of citizens that rent their home mentioned. Am I to assume they were overlooked because of the good intentions of the other city commissioners? My landlord has never failed to live up to his end of our contract. Would I be allowed to opt out of this program? Or do I have no choice of who gets to enter my home?

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Richard Heckler 9 months, 3 weeks ago

The condition of city sidewalks is a safety concern for sure. Here again landlords will need some encouragement to take care of their property in the interest of public safety.

For homeowners that are finding it difficult to make ends meet perhaps there is some sidewalk assistance that can be tapped.

Thanks city hall for agreeing to take a look around.

Rental Registration YES!!!!!! This is not increasing government it is making better use of our tax dollars.

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mikekt 9 months, 3 weeks ago

Thrilled !

Landlords need to be held to a fair public standard of providing safe housing for tenants .

Honestly, any sociopath can become a landlord, crooked contractor, a person who runs a filthy restaurant, etc.,....and their is a real role for government in protecting the public from that, just the same as the government thru the police dept. are charged with detaining dangerous criminals, murderers and bank robbers .

20 years from now the average tenant won't remember a few bucks divided by 12 months of rent but they certainly will remember a negligent slum lord and a town that let slum lords do as they please to tenants .

This will not kill the rental business in Lawrence Ks. and might even improve it's image and the City of Lawrence's reputation as a great place to live .

i am also thrilled that the City Auditor will be looking into the costs of 12 million worth of City paid for work at The Rock Chalk Park Recreation Complex ( which makes much more sense, than sending him on a "wild-fluoride-fact-finding-goose-chase-to-nowhere " ).

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