A plan to conduct safety inspections of thousands of rental units across Lawrence is still moving forward at City Hall, but not before the plan gets a more detailed inspection of its own.
A majority of city commissioners on Tuesday said they still were interested in creating a new rental registration and licensing program for all 18,000 rental units in the city, but first they directed staff members to further review the proposed ordinance and perhaps trim the list of possible violations a landlord could be cited for.
“I’m looking forward to trying to improve the housing stock in town,” Mayor Mike Dever said. “I feel like these inspections, though, really need to be about life safety issues.”
The list of violations landlords could be cited for includes a host of major life safety violations but also more minor issues such as dirty furnace filters, broken light switch covers and poorly fitted doors.
The proposed ordinance drew nearly an hour’s worth of public comment, including from landlords who raised concerns ranging from costs to civil rights issues.
“We’re going to see rent increases as a result of this,” said Brandy Sutton, a Lawrence attorney who has represented local landlords. “There is no doubt in my mind that we’re going to see that.”
Some city commissioners pushed back on the cost issue, though.
“This is a business,” City Commissioner Bob Schumm said of the rental industry. “People have to put money into their businesses. Just letting it turn into a piece of trash isn’t right.”
As for civil rights issues, an attorney for the city conceded tenants could face some legal liability if city inspectors saw “within plain sight” during an inspection items that clearly were illegal. But city officials also pointed out that the ordinance requires tenants to consent to the inspections. If tenants don’t consent to an inspection, the city would have to receive an administrative warrant to enter the property.
Several neighborhood leaders did urge commissioners to approve the new registration and inspection program, which would require all rental properties in town to register with the city and would inspect a sampling of properties every three to six years, depending on whether the apartment has a history of violations.
Commissioners agreed to further discuss the proposed ordinance at their Oct. 15 meeting.
In other business, commissioners:
• Unanimously approved zoning for a new commercial development near the future site of the interchange at Bob Billings Parkway and the South Lawrence Trafficway. The development — slated for the northeast corner of the intersection — includes 17 acres of commercial zoning. Concept plans show it could house up to a 60,000 square-foot store with several smaller businesses surrounding it. The development group, however, has not yet signed any tenants for the project.
• Approved $4.5 million in bonds and $43.9 million in temporary notes to finance a variety of previously approved projects, including the library expansion and the Rock Chalk Park recreation center. The city received an interest rate of 2.76 percent on the bonds and 0.2 percent on the short-term notes.
• Agreed to install a four-way stop at the intersection of Seventh and Alabama streets, after residents of the neighborhood and users of the nearby nursery school complained of excessive speed by motorists in the area.