Lawrence city commissioners need to be careful not to water down a proposed rental registration and licensing program so much that it doesn’t meet its intended goals.
Commissioners have agreed to delay action on the measure while they look at possible changes to the program, including reducing the number of violations the city should actually enforce. They have scheduled a study session at 4 p.m. Oct. 22 to discuss those changes.
Some commissioners say the program, which would apply to about 18,000 rental properties in the city, should focus almost exclusively on violations that pose a health or safety hazard. Those violations obviously should be given top priority, but other factors that affect the livability of the property and its exterior appearance also should be part of the inspection process.
Commissioners, for instance, said minor violations such as an inoperable bathroom vent fan or a clogged drain shouldn’t count against a landlord when determining how often his or her property must be inspected. Does that mean tenants simply should be expected to live with those conditions indefinitely? A chronically clogged drain could pose a health hazard, and a short circuit in that inoperable fan could become a safety issue.
Exterior maintenance of rental structures also should be a major concern. Too often, properties, especially those in older neighborhoods near Kansas University, have been allowed to deteriorate to the point that demolishing and replacing them is the only feasible option. “Demolition by neglect” doesn’t respect the value of older houses or the character of the neighborhoods that surround them.
Neighborhood groups are endorsing the inspection program not only because of the safety factors but because they want the structures near their property to be well-maintained and not in a state of constant disrepair and decline. As some neighbors and commissioners have pointed out, rental units are business properties and their landlords should be required to maintain them in a manner that doesn’t detract from their neighborhood.
Some aspects of the rental registration program — such as the process for notifying tenants about inspections — may need some work, but for the sake of tenants and neighboring property owners, commissioners need to keep some teeth in this new program.