Archive for Monday, March 4, 2013

Expansion of rental inspection program to get hearing Tuesday, as some commissioners express new concerns

March 4, 2013


Upon further inspection, a plan to ensure every rental unit in the city is licensed and inspected may not have smooth sailing through Lawrence City Hall after all.

Two key commissioners on Monday said they had concerns with the latest proposal and likely would lobby to delay approval of a new rental registration and licensing program until more research can be done.

“I don’t think we have hit upon the formula yet,” City Commissioner Hugh Carter said. “As it is proposed, I think it is a long ways from what I would be comfortable with.”

City Commissioner Mike Dever also said he had questions about the latest plan, which commissioners are scheduled to vote on at their Tuesday evening meeting.

The concerns are in contrast to a late November vote, when commissioners on a 5-0 vote asked staff members to prepare a plan to begin an expanded rental registration program.

Staff members released the latest version of that plan last week. It includes:

• The program would require registration and inspection of all rental properties in the city, which number about 18,000. Currently, the city’s program only covers rental properties that are in single-family zoned neighborhoods.

• Rental units would be inspected once every three years. The city, however, is proposing a system where larger complexes wouldn’t be required to have every unit inspected, but rather a sampling of units could be inspected.

• The inspections would check for several items related to the city’s health and safety code. The inspection, though, could also be used to issue a citation related to the city’s occupancy code. No more than four unrelated people are supposed to live in an apartment in the city, or no more than three unrelated people in single-family zoned rentals.

• Every apartment in the city would pay a $15 annual license fee. Apartments also would pay a $50 inspection fee in the year that they are due for an inspection. The city is offering a partial rebate on that fee, if units average five or fewer minor violations.

• The city previously has estimated it will cost about $370,000 to expand the rental licensing and inspection program. The proposed fees are designed to allow the program to break even. The city anticipates it will need to hire five new code enforcement officers and two new administrative assistants to staff the program.

The size and scope of the proposed program is creating concern with some commissioners.

“I don’t know if additional manpower and a larger program is the way to solve the problem, but I do think there is a problem,” Dever said. “I have had experiences in the last few years that make me believe that there are some properties that need some more oversight.”

Carter also said he is confident there are some problem rental properties in the community.

“We know there are places that are fire traps, and we know there are places that are overcrowded,” Carter said.

But Carter said he worried the city may be creating too large of a bureaucracy to deal with the issue, and was wary of some of the items an inspection would focus on. The inspections would include an array of issues: barbecue grills on decks, leaky roofs, wobbly hand rails, improper egress, and dirty furnace filters, among other things.

City Commissioner Mike Amyx previously has said he also has concerns about the size and costs of the program. He said at the time of the November vote that he was uncertain he could support the program if it required every apartment unit in the city to register. He has discussed a system that would require units 50 years and older to be licensed and inspected.

Carter said he also wanted to explore a system that would only include apartments that failed an initial inspection. After the initial inspection, apartments could be added if a tenant made a valid complaint.

In January, the city hosted a public meeting on the proposed program where multiple landlords said the plan was overly bureaucratic and an overreaction to a handful of rental problems in the city.

But an expanded rental licensing program has been a major issue with several neighborhood associations. Leaders with eight neighborhood associations spoke in favor of a broader program during the commission’s November meeting.

City commissioners will consider the latest plan at their 6:35 p.m. meeting on Tuesday at City Hall.


Number_1_Grandma 5 years, 3 months ago

The city does not have the manpower to enforce this program. Nor the money. If you're not going to fix a problem ( Which this isn't ) don't mess with it. Just enforce the rules already on rental program. Commissioners beware of being mislead by staff on this one!

Boston_Corbett 5 years, 3 months ago

yes Num1gma.... This is a huge issue....and based upon your comments you are a rental whore. Quite frankly, it should not even be dependent on rental fees.... In a city that depends upon 70% rentals, life safety issues are important.

cowboy 5 years, 3 months ago

The city went off half cocked on this program. Among the problems.. , no input from property owners , too large a percent of inspections on larger properties , no list of inspection criteria leaves it open to variance , no published correction process , timeline . No criteria for addressing older core first , then branching out or phasing in the process over a few years.

Basicly they whipped a half ass process up without thinking past their noses.

You have good support for this if you do it sensibly.

jhawk1998 5 years, 3 months ago

so long as the program pays for itself, and it should - coupled with fines that also support the program this is a worthwhile idea. Can't believe they could pass the Rock Chalk Sport Park initiative so quickly but can't get this program figures out. Just goes to show priorities. I see no reason why newer apartments should be exempt. I agree with the other poster - all rentals or none.

joes_donuts 5 years, 3 months ago

Program doesn't pay for itself, the landlords pay for the program (which in turn means the tenants). There are already ordinances on the books to deal with problem properties, use them. Why do we need to punish the landlords doing it right, just so we can get the few cheating the system? Go after the problem properties, the city already knows where they are...

Matthew Herbert 5 years, 3 months ago

Recovering Drug-addict whino types? Generalize much?

kuguardgrl13 5 years, 3 months ago

Many of you seem to think that there isn't an issue with rental properties in this town. Speaking as a renter, I have to disagree with that thought. I've lived in two different apartments owned and operated by different companies and been in many others around town. Many of these apartments are considered to be the more decent college apartments. They still have their share of issues. Dirty furnace filters, a furnace that Black Hills red tagged because it was filled with rust, a gas leak when a new water heater was installed buy an inexperienced maintenance man, AC that quits in the middle of July, cheap plumbing, washer broken by a previous tenant that took months to replace, need I go on? For $800 a month on average, we renters shouldn't have to out up with this. Property managers and landlords wouldn't let their private homes fall into such disrepair, so why are they allowed to treat their renters so poorly? I don't even care about having to pay more if my apartment is in better condition.

jafs 5 years, 3 months ago

Furnace filters generally last 1-3 months, so it wouldn't be "all the time".

And, it should be clear in the lease whose responsibility it is, if you want tenants to do it. It fits under the general category of home maintenance, which is primarily a landlord's responsibility, unlike cleaning a lint screen.

Also, cleaning a lint screen doesn't cost a dime.

Exercising one's "right to move" doesn't make negligent landlords fulfill their obligations and responsibilities.

Personally, as a tenant, I generally did replace filters, because I wanted to use good ones, not the cheap ones landlords tend to use.

flyin_squirrel 5 years, 3 months ago


A new filter is $2.

A red tagged furnace cannot be turned on because the Gas is locked by Black Hills until the issue is fixed. So this wouldn't be something for the rental police (City Rental Inspectors).

A gas leak by the new water heater isn't something for the Rental Police, that is a call to the Gas Company.

Cheap Plumbing- Will the Rental Police make all properties meet current code? Talk about a pandora's box...

Broken Washer- Not an issue for the Rental Police. Unless your lease says your landlord will supply a working Washer, this is not a requirement. And if it does say he has to supply one, that is for the courts, not the city.

AC that quits in July- Again, unless your lease says you will have a working AC, this is not a requirement. I went all through high school and college without AC and did just fine. And if your lease says that, it is a court issue, not one for the Rental Police.

Matthew Herbert 5 years, 3 months ago

"I dont' even care about having to pay more if my apartment is in better condition". Perfect, then spend $6.99 at Home Depot and replace your furnace filter every three months. That might have stopped your A/C from shooting craps too.

James Hicks 5 years, 3 months ago

Who knows how others live in their own homes. If landlords don't keep their properties in good shape, the occupancy rate will fall. If individual safety is the main concern, let's require inspections on all residences inside the city limits. I'm sure there are private home owners that don't change their furnance filters often enough. Maybe they chose to live with a faulty water heater or leaky roof.

fancy80 5 years, 3 months ago

Just wondering if the city (Lawrence Housing Authority) will be required to pay the $15 per apartment and the $50 inspection fees on the apartments they own, since they own several hundred apartments here in Lawrence.

SpunKey 5 years, 3 months ago

Lets not go witch hunting every rental property via bigger government (staff and budget) and increased licensing and inspections for all. Deal with the problem people directly.

The city already has the structure for code violation warning letters... use it better.

The only "fair" solution is:
1. Complaint filed - tenant documents issue(s) and lists their prior attempts to resolve with landlord and pays small fee/deposit. (put your money where you mouth is reduces bluffs). 2. City review - complaints prioritizes for health and safety violations. 3. If health and safety are threatened, an inspection notice is sent to landlord for (ie notice to cure or subject to inspection). 4. If the landlord cures the defect prior to inspection, tenant notifies the city that complaint is withdrawn. 5. If not cured, the inspection is done and the cost is billed to the landlord if found negligent (and the tenant receives deposit refund).

Since moving to Lawrence in 1972 I have been on all sides of this issue. There is one difference now.... there is adequate housing available (many units empty). Tenants should not be cheap and support sub-standard housing. Keep looking until you find the right place.

Tenants usually have not been homeowners and do not understand the logistics and costs when washers break and plumbing clogs. The landlord is often stuck in the middle (between tenant, rapairman, lendor and city). The tenant in my SFH is SUPPOSED to mow the lawn and change the filter (not the landlord). Only one of five ever have mowed the lawn adequately. Everytime the HVAC repairman comes the filter is filthy (wear and tear landlord pays for over life of system). The tenants get warnings from the city for lawn mowing, parking cars on grass, dogs at large, etc. and I am in the middle cleaning-up their issues and teaching them to be responsible adults.

jafs 5 years, 3 months ago

A complaint driven system puts too much responsibility on tenants to make complaints - when they're dependent on landlords for good references if they move, that discourages complaints.

Your blaming tenants for "supporting sub-standard housing" seems odd to me. If landlords are providing that sort of housing, that's their fault.

If your tenants aren't adequately doing those things, then you should probably charge a little more and do them yourself - that would be the responsible thing to do as a landlord. Especially if not replacing furnace filters is a significant cost and problem for you.

Many tenants, especially younger ones, don't understand a lot about home maintenance - but that's part of why people rent, and it's generally a landlord's responsibility. Tenants are supposed to keep a place clean and live quietly, so as not to annoy neighbors.

flyin_squirrel 5 years, 3 months ago

Ok, I will play along. So you say "a complaint driven system puts too much responsibility on the the tenant". What will the Rental Registration Program be? If they only check every 3 yrs, that is only going to solve issues for one tenant out of 3 at that residence.

"you should charge more"- OK, so now lower income people will not be able to afford any housing and don't forget the rent is also going up because of the Rental Registration fees.

"tenants are supposed to keep a place clean and live quietly, so as not to annoy neighbors." - So a tenant is like a prisoner, only paying rent for their space? Should the landlord also make sure they clean their dishes every night and make their beds in the morning? And if the neighbors tell the tenant they cannot grill out at night because the smoke ANNOYS them, should the tenant also comply to their wishes (since the tenant is only a RENTER)?

Catalano 5 years, 3 months ago

"What will the Rental Registration Program be? If they only check every 3 yrs, that is only going to solve issues for one tenant out of 3 at that residence."

That's assuming new tenants each year. Good landlord = tenant might just stay put. (Not every tenant is a student who moves every year.) And tenant would probably be happy to pay the $15/year registration fee and $50/3 years inspection fee. $95/36 = $2.64/mo added to the rent. (Especially if tenant IS a student...they seem to have more money than I do and I would pay it to have a properly maintained place to rent.)

jafs 5 years, 3 months ago

I'd check more often, yearly in fact.

Hey, if the tenants aren't doing what they should be doing based on their lease, that's their fault. If they do, then the landlord would continue to have them mow the yard, etc. and their rent wouldn't go up as much.

A tenant is a renter, renting their space, that's exactly right - I don't know why you read some sort of anti-tenant sentiment into that. I've been a tenant much more often than not over my life, and a very good one. My point with that comment was that this landlord seems to think tenants have a lot more responsibilities than they do - their responsibilities are basically limited to what I said.

I don't know about the smoke issues, but if neighbors are complaining about noise, then yes, tenants should be more considerate (as should homeowners in that situation).

The whole drift of my comments is challenging the landlord here who expects tenants to do much more than I think they should, so I really don't understand the tone of your comments - are you a bad tenant, who trashes places and plays music loudly enough to annoy your neighbors?

Renters aren't the same thing, legally speaking, as owners - that's just the way our system works. If that's really problematic for you, then you should consider owning rather than renting.

SpunKey 5 years, 3 months ago

Jafs -

"too much responsibility on tenants" = grow up. Yes, they should grow-up and be accountable adults. Afterall, they signed lease as a responsible adult.

Your dollar is your vote.... don't rent from slum-lords. Read on-line reviews of apartment complexs. Ask for the Landlord's references (prior tenants). Be PRO-active (as in PROfessional and ACTIVEly involved).

A landlord does not know which tenants are "high maintenance" when determaining rental rates. Slackers are slackers....the fee or landlord coaching seldom changes that - extra fees will only create more reason for slackers to complain or not be responsible. Plus get real about collecting the fees from problem tenants! You can't evict for fees - just rent.

As for clean and quite.... I had $1200 cleaning and repairs on last turn-over when pets ate doors, stained basement concrete, and caused sheetrock orders to permeate ammonia smell. Their deposit was only 2/3rd that. I will never get the balance due me. Is it fair to up the rent for next person? No, I need to be a better judge of character (just like tenant needs to judge character of landlord).

Landlord references, like employee references, must be factual, accurate and are legally limited in context. If a tenant's complaints are founded... their paperwork proves the prior landloard was at fault (and lists attempts to contact landlord for cure... which is all a responsible landlord needs). It very clearly shows to future landlords that they are a responsible tenant. I would prefer to rent to someone like that. Honest and Fair.

jafs 5 years, 3 months ago

Their being accountable adults is one thing - requiring them to make their landlords do the same is quite another - landlords should be accountable businesspeople without having to be forced to do so by their tenants.

Doesn't quite get the point there - if landlords are renting out substandard properties, they should be held accountable for that.

If you aren't doing enough to make sure you get good tenants, that's on you as well. In my experience renting, one has to jump through a number of hoops, checks, references, etc. all of which are designed to help landlords get good tenants.

Again, just charge a bit more for rent, and do the yard maintenance yourself, and change the furnace filters instead of complaining that your tenants don't do it, if it's a problem for you. If you have a tenant who's not changing the filter, and it's a problem, just do it yourself. Filters are cheap, and I'm sure they'd be ok with it, especially if you change their lease and take away their responsibility for it.

I don't know about the last paragraph - I do know that as a tenant, the fear of creating an adversarial relationship with a landlord and possibly not getting a good reference was a deterrent to making any formal complaints.

Sounds like you demand a high level of responsibility and accountability from tenants, but not from landlords (or yourself) - I'd say that's problematic, and perhaps part of why you have trouble finding good tenants. My wife and I were very good tenants for many years, and had a lot of trouble finding a good landlord.

cowboy 5 years, 3 months ago

try this one on......required addendum to all leases in the city of lawrence

tenant shall notify landlord in writing via certified mail of any safety / code violations. if landlord fails to remedy within 45 days of receipt lease is null and void.

kuguardgrl13 5 years, 3 months ago

Here's the problem I have with things like furnace filters. Yes, I could change it myself. However, I brought up the issue with maintenance upon moving in, i.e. the filter was dirty because of previous tenants, not me. They said they would change it, at least before the "cold season" in October. I finally got them to take care of it in January. Their company is supposed to annually inspect furnaces every fall. They did not. The red tagged furnace was at a different apartment. As for the AC, most apartments include in the lease that they must fix AC in the summer and the furnace in the winter within a reasonable period of time. The cheap plumbing costs me money. Every faucet in my apartment drips, and they won't fix it because it's a problem with the actual pipes. I can only submit maintenance request after maintenance request for so long before it becomes a waste of my time and energy. Therefore, I will once again be moving and try yet another rental in this town. While I won't file formal complaints because of needing references, online anonymous reviews will hear from me as well as word of mouth. And rental properties should beware of word of mouth. Students talk to each other about their apartments and tend not to recommend bad ones to their friends.

Matthew Herbert 5 years, 3 months ago

Kuguardgrl, you are exactly correct about the importance of word of mouth - which actually serves to invalidate the need for inspections. The free market system works in your situation. Your landlord didn't want to put the money into his/her rental and thus, they will no longer be receiving rental income from you on that property. Free market economics is a beautiful thing - we DON'T have to have regulations and bureaucracy for every facet of our lives.

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