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Archive for Monday, September 9, 2013

City Commission set to decide issue of rental licensing and inspection program

September 9, 2013

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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.

Comments

Bursting 10 months, 3 weeks ago

Just too much... Our housing conditions in Lawrence are not bad enough to justify this gigantic program.

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George_Braziller 10 months, 3 weeks ago

There are some pretty awful rental units in Lawrence which somehow have managed to fly under the radar. I think the program is really needed .

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patkindle 10 months, 3 weeks ago

the city commission seems to be more interested in posting signs forbidding laws being broken rather than actually doing something, I suspect this is how they will handle it

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BaneMaler 10 months, 3 weeks ago

So a very similar program was implemented in Manhattan, KS and was recently retracted after the very tenants began to complain that they were being ticketed by the house inspectors for the cleanliness and content of their property (note occupancy inspections). This will not only punish a majority of decent renters but also the occupants themselves. If people have a complaint about a tenant that is one thing, but mandatory inspections into the privacy of renters homes is something completely different. While we are at it, lets inspect home owners as well. I mean, if we are really concerned about safety why do you have to live there or nearby as an owner to ensure the safety of your property?

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Curveball 10 months, 3 weeks ago

All this is going to do is raise the rent for the tenants, those who can't afford to buy housing. So who cares if there is a little crack in the drywall or if the plumbing isn't perfect. Does the city government really expect the landlords to absorb the cost of all the fees and inspections? It will be passed on to the renters just as the property taxes are figured into the monthly rent. The landlords will still have equity in the property and tax deductions. All the tenants get is more expensive housing costs.

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justforfun 10 months, 3 weeks ago

Yes you are correct. We have allready started having our attorney start drawing it up. A $75 one time fee for all tenents as part of any new lease. In the future depending on how nit picky ($ of repairs) the inspection is that may have to increase. Sorry tenents, but but we landlords cant keep eating the costs of the citys programs. I pearsonally am not that concerned with condition of my units, but with the rise of the Mlll Levy for everything aroud here I just can't keep acting like it's the cost of doing business.

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workinghard 10 months, 3 weeks ago

Instead of license renewal every year, how about every two years. This cuts paperwork in half. I also think the inspection fee is kind of high. But while we are at it, any residences with minor children should be inspected. Think of all the homes where parents are forcing children to live in homes that are not up to code. Shouldn't these children be protected? Just because their parents own the house instead of renting it shouldn't be a factor. Ok folks, hopefully you can see I am being sarcastic.

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Matthew Herbert 10 months, 3 weeks ago

As a "mom and pop" landlord I can tell you that it will not be the end of mom and pop landlords, as the costs will absolutely be passed on to the tenants. I can promise this will happen with at least all of our houses. What this WILL BE is the end of low-income individuals being able to afford nice housing.

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jafs 10 months, 3 weeks ago

Well, the inspection fees aren't that bad - $50-60/yr. Averaged out over the year, that comes to about $5/month.

If you mean that you'll have to do significant work to comply with city regs, then I question your comment about "nice housing".

Good landlords have nothing to fear from a program like this, just as restaurants that comply with food safety requirements have nothing to fear from inspections by the Dept of Agriculture.

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imastinker 10 months, 3 weeks ago

Good landlords will still have to make themselves available in the middle of the day (possibly missing work) to be at these inspections. Plus it appears that the program pushes current building codes which may not be a safety violation to leave (short ceilings)

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jafs 10 months, 3 weeks ago

Being a landlord is a job as well, and it's not unreasonable that it should require some work.

Also, I'm not sure that their presence is required at these inspections - do you have a source for that? If a tenant is available, and the city can get into the property, that's all that's really necessary, I would think.

The issue of what codes should be is a good one, and there's a reasonable debate to be had about that, but that doesn't invalidate the general idea or validity of this program. If you have specific ideas about what should/shouldn't be in the codes, I hope that you share those with city officials.

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Matthew Herbert 10 months, 3 weeks ago

The way a business works is that you predict your anticipated costs ($60 annually) and aim your costs to project revenue that exceeds those projected expenses so that in a 'worst case scenario' you end up okay. Accordingly, we are projecting $25/month rent increases to cover potential expenses from this program.

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jafs 10 months, 3 weeks ago

Ok. So you figure you'll have to spend about $240/yr on fixing up the property.

If you don't have to spend that money, will you return it to your tenants?

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Greg DiVilbiss 10 months, 3 weeks ago

What cities have a comparable program? It seems to me the city already has codes, if the code is not met then, there would be systems to deal with this.

So if there are existing codes that have to be met, why is there a need for this program. It seems to me to be unnecessary.

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jafs 10 months, 3 weeks ago

One reason is that the burden of dealing with these problems fall on tenants, who shouldn't have to "report" their landlords for code violations.

For one thing, they may be justifiably concerned about retaliation on the part of the landlord, including not getting a good reference if/when they move.

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Matthew Herbert 10 months, 3 weeks ago

I think tenants over estimate the number of times landlords even check references. Since '06 I've had probably 30+ tenants. I've fielded 3 reference calls, ever.

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jafs 10 months, 3 weeks ago

Well, that's odd.

I've always had to provide them, and assumed that prospective landlords would check them, otherwise what's the point of asking for them?

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richfree 10 months, 3 weeks ago

If approved, there will only be "bad Landlords" in our city. All costs will be passed on to tenants, who have many prescriptive rights already. Why not enforce current city ordinances now on the books. Is this just another way of raising taxes on a select group by coming in the back door ? No more cheap rent in Lawrence, Kansas.

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countryguyks 10 months, 3 weeks ago

Tenants/Renters BEWARE !

This new law is not only coming after Landlords, but more than that its's coming after you as a Renter!

One of the main reason's the City wants this passed is so they can have access to your personal residence and have the abailty to go thru every room in your house/ apt etc !

These inspectors will be looking for any signs of drug activety, dealing or what ever else the goverment has on it's personal agenda ! Keep in mind alot of these inspections may take place when you are NOT EVEN at HOME ! They will be taking pictures of what ever they want !

A retired Lawrence Ks Police Officer has even stated the main reason the City Goverment wants these inspections is to look for Drug activety or anything else the goverment has on it's personal Agenda!

Do you want the Goverment going thru your home taking pictures and what ever and you might not even be there ???

This is a Violation of every Renter's rights !~ Having a Goverment Agency coming into your personal living space and taking pic's and reporting you to other goverment agency's to pursue charges against you !

Just think if these goverment inspectors suspect you might be using drugs they weill Report you to the Lawrence Police Dept !

Of if you have children and they don't think your living space is clean enough to raise children they will Report you to the Social Service Dept, and have them pay you a call in person and potentially take your childrend away from you !

What the City of Lawrence is trying to do is take away all your rights to privacy!

It would be a Cold Day in He(( before I would ever let ANY goverment inspector into my home/apatment with out a search warrant! But that is what the Lawrence Goverment is wanting to do!!!!

Search with no Reason !!

Stand up for your Rights and tell Lawrence Goverment NO !

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jafs 10 months, 3 weeks ago

Well, according to reporting on this issue, tenants can deny access. If they do, then the city would get a warrant.

And, as far as I know, tenants can easily require that they be at home when inspectors come.

Although I'm a big fan of limiting unreasonable searches, I don't find your position very convincing. Your "right to privacy" doesn't include the right to break the law, or put your children in substandard conditions, and the government has a legitimate interest in preventing that.

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Richard Heckler 10 months, 3 weeks ago

Is YOUR landlord keeping YOUR home up to Code? Property Maintenance Code --- http://www.lawrenceks.org/city_code/system/files/chapter09.pdf Article 5 Article 6

--- http://www.lawrenceks.org/pds/code_enforcement

If YOU as a tenant cannot get proper response from YOUR landlord and YOU are a student seek legal advice on campus.

--- Perhaps neighbors can team up.

--- Create a paper trail by filing complaints

--- Keep records as to how often code enforcement has been notified. email is a good recording device

--- Keep a record as to how many times the property owner and/or property manager have been notified

--- Take pictures

--- Stay persistent!

If YOU as a tenant cannot get proper response from YOUR landlord contact YOUR neighborhood association.

If YOU as a tenant cannot get proper response from YOUR landlord go to the city commission.

If YOU as a tenant cannot get proper response from YOUR landlord research how many ways a tenant can break a contract legally. There are mountains of vacant properties in Lawrence,Kansas.

If YOU as a tenant cannot get proper response from YOUR landlord and YOU are a student seek legal advice on campus.

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Richard Heckler 10 months, 3 weeks ago

Neighborhoods have a nuisance home that landlords refuse to recognize?

If neighbors cannot get a proper response from the landlord perhaps these suggestions can help.

--- Neighbors can team up. Work Together.

--- Create a paper trail by filing complaints.

--- Keep records as to how often code enforcement has been notified. email is a good recording device.

--- Keep a record as to how many times the property owner and/or property manager have been notified.

--- Take pictures.

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workinghard 10 months, 3 weeks ago

And yet, Merrill is against banning couches on porches which are a safety hazard. Does that make sense?

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