Lawrence and Douglas County

Lawrence and Douglas county

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.


oneeye_wilbur 1 year, 1 month ago

How come the city is keeping under wraps DeKosky vs City olLawrence.?


kuguardgrl13 1 year, 1 month 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.


cowboy 1 year, 1 month 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.


SpunKey 1 year, 1 month 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.


SpunKey 1 year, 1 month 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.


fancy80 1 year, 1 month 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.


James Hicks 1 year, 1 month 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.


kuguardgrl13 1 year, 1 month 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.


mikekt 1 year, 1 month ago

We inspect restaurants. We inspect meat counters at the grocery..............should we stop doing these because many food sellers are responsible ?

Where there is money to be made..... or saved,..... landlords will cut corners !

They hire sociopathic property managers and so called recovered drug addict-wino types to do the fix it stuff, who couldn't get a job elsewhere and then teach them to thwart the tenants with valid issues that need repair at every turn.

Don't like that ? They'll throw you out !

It's time for the City Commission to grow up and put the brakes on irresponsible Owners, Property Managers and Maintenance Folks who could care less because they have burned themselves out on alcohol and drugs .

What's the difference between robing a person with a gun and robing with a lease and an "attitude" that assumes that being a landlord makes you God on earth .


jhawk1998 1 year, 1 month 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.


cowboy 1 year, 1 month 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.


Number_1_Grandma 1 year, 1 month 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!


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