Lawrence city commissioners on Tuesday largely resolved their differences over a proposed citywide rental licensing program, and are scheduled to vote on the extensive program on Dec. 3.
"It seems like this gets at what we are trying to do," City Commissioner Terry Riordan said. "It might put us in the middle of a few situations, but we will be put in the middle as a protector of the tenant, and that is what we are trying to do."
The program would require essentially every rental unit in the city to register with the city, and a sampling of units from every landlord in the community would be inspected every three to six years to check for health and safety violations.
Commissioners have been discussing the program for months and included approximately $375,000 in the 2014 budget to implement it. But in recent weeks, commissioners have expressed concern over the specific regulations that would govern the program.
At a study session on Tuesday, a majority of commissioners directed staff members to tweak the proposed regulation in a manner that would make it more likely landlords would qualify for an incentive program that would allow their units to be inspected every six years instead of the standard three years.
Details of the program to be presented on Dec. 3 will include:
• City inspectors will look for both major and minor violations at rental units. Examples of major violations could include issues such as faulty wiring, large areas of mold, missing or nonworking smoke alarms and faulty venting of furnaces. Examples of minor violations could include inoperable bathroom vent fans, clogged drains, improperly fitting doors, missing or damaged window screens.
The key compromise proposed by commissioners on Tuesday would allow rental units to receive any number of minor violations and still qualify for the the incentive program that would reduce the frequency of inspection programs. The previous proposal was that a landlord would be ineligible for the incentive if more than five minor violations were discovered. A major violation would still make the landlord eligible for the incentive.
• The city will inspect 10 percent of a landlord, or landlord company's, total number of living units in the city every three years, or every six years if it has qualified for the incentive.
• Existing apartments that technically are required to have fire sprinklers will be allowed to meet the code by installing ladders or exterior fire escapes for upper-story apartments and requiring working fire extinguishers in each kitchen. New projects will continue to be required to meet the fire sprinkler codes.
• Properties where an owner lives in a home and rents out bedrooms in the home will be exempt from the registration and inspection programs.
• Rental license fees will be $10 per year, per dwelling unit for landlords with one to 50 apartments; $9 for landlords with 51 to 100 apartments; $8 for 101 to 150 apartments; and $7 per unit or a maximum of $1,200 for landlords with 151 or more apartments. When a unit is inspected, the landlord will pay a fee of $50 for each unit inspected.
Support for the licensing program isn't unanimous on the commission. City Commissioner Mike Amyx said he believed the city's current system where any tenant could request a city inspection of their apartment is adequate.
"I have a hard time voting for something that I think is already taken care of with the codes we have today," Amyx said. "We're not creating any new codes. All we're creating is an inspection program and a licensing program to collect money."