An inoperable bathroom vent fan may be a problem, but it shouldn't be the type that dings a landlord under the city's proposed rental registration and licensing program.
The same goes for a clogged drain, a cracked window, a poorly fitting door or a whole host of other minor violations, Lawrence Mayor Mike Dever said as city commissioners begin rethinking a proposed rental inspection program that would cover 18,000 properties in the city.
City commissioners have agreed to hold a study session at 4 p.m. on Oct. 22 to discuss possible changes in the program, including suggestions by Dever to delay the program's inspections until late 2014 and to reduce the list of possible landlord violations.
"I would like to see the list pared down a bit," Dever said. "I don't want to cheapen the program in any way, but I want it to be a feasible program."
At the request of Dever, city commissioners prepared written comments on the hotly debated rental registration and licensing program. Currently, the city operates a rental inspection program that only covers rental units in single-family zoned neighborhoods. The new program would cover essentially every rental unit in the city.
There had been talk in City Hall of implementing the program in early 2014. Dever is now suggesting that inspections for the program don't begin until at least September of 2014, in order to give landlords time to put language into leases notifying tenants that city inspectors have the right to enter their premises.
City Manager David Corliss asked for a study session to get a clearer handle on how the commission wants the program to be shaped.
"We would like to have some direction about what's in and what's out," Corliss said.
Dever said he believes there are a host of "minor violations" that the city should inspect for, but should not take into account when determining how often a rental property will be inspected. The city is proposing a system where properties would be inspected every three years, unless city inspectors find fewer than five "minor violations" per unit. In those cases, properties would go six years in between inspections.
City Commissioner Mike Amyx in his comments also questioned whether the list of violations should be modified to focus more exclusively on issues related to life and safety matters. He also said the city needs to figure out a better way to notify tenants that the city will be doing an inspection in their homes. Under the current licensing program the city is running for single family rentals, the city has begun asking landlords to get their tenants to fill out a consent form. Amyx said that was asking too much of landlords.
"This should be handled by the city," Amyx wrote. "It should not be a requirement for landlord/manager to ask tenants to sign a document that allows a city staff person to enter their home."
City Commissioner Jeremy Farmer also expressed several concerns in his written review of the proposed program, including questions about appropriate fees, Fourth Amendment protections for tenants and how the program will handle violations created by tenants rather than landlords.
City Commissioner Bob Schumm said in his written comments that he doesn't want the program to focus only on life-safety violations. He said the program should hold landlords accountable for the exterior conditions of their properties as well.
"I believe that landlords, as business owners, have an obligation to the neighborhood they are located in to keep their property in a condition that does not detract from the neighborhood," Schumm wrote.
Click here to see all the written comments from city commissioners.
The proposed rental regulations have been endorsed by several neighborhood groups, who say there are multiple rental units in the city out of compliance with important city codes. But several landlords have objected to the licensing program, which would require a $7 to $10 annual registration fee for each rental unit owned by a landlord, plus additional fees for those units that are inspected in any given year.
Originally, commissioners were scheduled to consider the rental regulations at their upcoming meeting on Tuesday. But commissioners will delay any action on the regulations until after the Oct. 22 study session.