On one side, Lawrence's proposed rental registration and licensing program is a great safety improvement for the city's renters. On the other side, it is the beginning of a broad, overreaching, government bureaucracy.
City commissioners at their meeting on Tuesday are being asked to pick a final side as they are expected to vote on the final details of a new rental licensing and inspection program that would cover all 18,000 rental units in the city.
"These inspections really revolve around the safety of our housing stock," Mayor Mike Dever said.
But the proposed inspection program is expected to draw one last round of opposition from a coalition of large apartment complex owners.
"Unfortunately, the proposed ordinance is unduly burdensome, unnecessary, makes our community's business climate appear unfriendly, and will have serious unintended results to the large Lawrence population which resides in apartments," Matt Hoy, an attorney for the Lawrence Apartments Association, said in written comments provided to the Journal-World.
If the measure is approved Tuesday night, city staff members estimate that registration and licensing of apartments could begin shortly after Jan. 1.
The new program seemingly has an inside track toward approval. In July, commissioners approved a 2014 city budget that includes funding for five new City Hall employees to staff the rental licensing program. In November, commissioners also approved the broad parameters of a rental licensing program.
But Tuesday's vote will be the first one on the specifics of the program. Those details include:
• All rental properties must register with the city once per year. Properties will be charged an annual license fee ranging from $7 to $10 per dwelling unit, depending on the size of the apartment complex.
• Owners of rental property must have a local address within 40 miles of the city or appoint a resident manager who lives within 40 miles of the city.
• At apartment complexes and other multiunit properties, the city will inspect 10 percent of the units on a single property, or up to 15 units. If major violations are found, the city can inspect an additional 10 percent of the units. Generally, the city will inspect properties once every three years. But the city is offering an incentive to properties that have few violations. If a property has an average of five or fewer violations, it won't be up for re-inspection until six years.
• Landlords will pay a $50 per unit fee for every unit that is inspected by the city.
• Inspectors will look for a variety of issues. Minor violations include issues such as barbecue grills on decks, clogged drains and faulty handrails. Major violations include issues such as over-occupancy, lack of deadbolt locks and improper egress for bedrooms.
In previous City Commission hearings, several members of neighborhood associations have spoken in favor of the proposed inspection program, citing instances where they've seen dangerous rental properties in their neighborhood.
But on Monday, the Lawrence Apartments Association argued that the city isn't doing enough to make its current rental housing program successful. The city currently has a system where anybody can call in a complaint about a rental property and trigger an inspection of the premises.
City officials have said that system allows too many problem properties to fall through the cracks, but Hoy, the attorney for the apartment complex group, suggested the city hasn't done enough to make tenants aware that they can ask for a city inspection of properties.
Hoy said the city should consider requiring landlords to place information about the inspection program in their leases. He said the city may even want to consider requiring landlords to place placards on the interior side of entrance doors that would include a phone number for where tenants can call for an inspection.
Dever said he is reserving final judgement on the proposed licensing and inspection program until Tuesday night's public hearing.
"But I feel like we are making proper strides on creating a balanced program," Dever said. "I have received comments from people who feel like there shouldn't be any mandated inspections. They feel like they all should be complaint driven. But I'm not sure that is really the consensus of the community."
Commissioners meet at 6:35 p.m. Tuesday at City Hall.