City commissioners balked at the idea of creating a new rental licensing program Tuesday night but did not pull the plug on the idea.
A majority of commissioners said they thought some type of citywide rental inspection program is needed but questioned whether the city currently had the wherewithal to start a program that would inspect all 18,000 rental units in the city.
“I can tell you that 18,000 dwelling units is a huge number,” City Commissioner Mike Dever, an environmental consultant, said. “I inspect stuff for a living, and that number makes my head explode.”
But commissioners said they still want to try to create a program before the current City Commission leaves office, which will happen in early April when three of the five positions will be elected by voters at the April 2 election.
Commissioners agreed to put the issue back on their March 26 agenda, while in the meantime reaching out to several stakeholders in the apartment community and neighborhood associations.
Both landlords and neighborhood leaders were on hand Tuesday night.
“This issue is about courage, leadership and safety,” said Tom Harper, a Lawrence neighborhood advocate who asked commissioners to approve an expanded rental licensing program. “People who rent their properties will have to ensure they are safe, and that seems like a reasonable expectation.”
But members of the landlord community said the program and the proposed fees represented an overreach by government to address what is just a limited problem in the rental community.
Instead, several landlords argued the city needed to do more to increase awareness by tenants that they currently can call the city and ask for an inspection anytime they believe their property isn’t up to city code.
“We’re looking at creating an overly broad program when what we really need is and an education program,” said Brandy Sutton, an attorney who represents several landlords.
The city’s current rental licensing program only covers rental units that are in single-family zoned neighborhoods. The proposal up for discussion Tuesday would have expanded the program to every rental unit in the city and would have required units to be inspected every three years.