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City researching idea of hanging placards in all 18,000 of Lawrence’s rental units

January 3, 2014


Perhaps it will become the conversation piece of 2014.

Under the latest proposal floating around Lawrence City Hall, every rental unit in the city — about 18,000 of them — would have a city-approved placard posted somewhere in the living unit describing how tenants can lodge a housing complaint with city officials.

The placard idea was an unexpected addition when city commissioners met last month to discuss the proposed rental licensing program. But now that a couple of weeks have passed since the idea emerged, some city commissioners are having second thoughts.

"I'm as much for the dissemination of information as anyone, but I 'm not sure a placard is the way to go," said City Commissioner Bob Schumm, who was one of the three commissioners who voted for the draft version of the rental licensing program. "I think it could kind of diminish the quality of the home if you have to have rules and regulations posted on your wall."

But City Commissioner Jeremy Farmer, who proposed the idea, said he thinks a placard would be useful to tenants. He said he's convinced most tenants don't know they can call the city's codes enforcement office to schedule a safety inspection of their apartment at any time.

As proposed, the new rental licensing program would require mandatory inspections for a sampling of apartments across the city each year. But many units would go six years or more without undergoing a mandatory inspection.

"I just think if it is something that you saw in your apartment, you would be reminded of it and you would know who to call if a problem came up," Farmer said. "I suppose we could just put something in the water bills to remind them, but I'm not sure how many people read that stuff."

Where the placards should be hung, however, is an issue Farmer said needs more consideration. Originally, there had been a suggestion that it be hung on the back of the apartment's front door. Farmer said he can see why tenants may not like that location, but he said a less visible location likely could be found.

Neither the placard idea nor the rental licensing system are done deals. Both still must win another vote at City Hall. On a 3-2 vote — Mayor Mike Dever and Commissioner Mike Amyx were opposed — commissioners directed staff members to draw up an ordinance to implement the proposed program.

Scott McCullough, the city's director of planning and development services, said his office expects to bring an ordinance for commissioners to consider by mid-to-late January.

McCullough said part of what his office is working on is the specific wording for a placard. He said it likely would include information about the city's minimum housing code and contact information on who to call if the tenant believes there is a violation of the code.

"We understand that the issue is whether it creates too much of a commercial or institutional feel for someone's home, and that is an issue we'll be looking at," McCullough said. "But if there is something for people to see consistently, it may raise awareness."


Ron Holzwarth 4 years, 3 months ago

That sounds ridiculous to me. That's the sort of thing you see in motel rooms!

I think it would be much better for the city to require that information be part of the lease that is required to rent almost all apartments. Or, it would be much cheaper for the city to maintain a website listing that information than to post and also then maintain about 18,000 city-approved placards.

And, very soon there would have to be inspections by the city to make sure that the 18,000 placards are still in place, and legible!

Beator 4 years, 3 months ago

"But if there is something for people to see consistently, it may raise awareness."

I think for the safety of tenants and to "raise awareness", it would be better if the city monitored all 18,000 rental units with a panning camera in each room. A multitude of issues could be checked for. Diversity. Safety. Cleanliness. Temperature. Lighting. If there were any problems noticed by the tenant, they could wave profusely in the camera to alert authorities.

Robert Rauktis 4 years, 3 months ago

There is a kernel of an idea here. Reality shows sell for other people always have a more interesting life than you do. Plus, sprinkle in some porn. Bingo! City finances turned around faster than you can say "Kardashian"!

RJ Johnson 4 years, 3 months ago

Our City commissioners hard at work again! What a waste of time and money.

Lawrence needs a new form of Government. This one is not working and waste way to much money!!

Wayne Kerr 4 years, 3 months ago

This actually doesn't sound like a bad idea to me, but considering the new century we find ourselves in, why doesn't the city just set up a website where renters can lodge complaints and read reviews of their potential landlords?

Carlos Nash 4 years, 3 months ago

This has got to be the most ridiculous idea I've encountered. I don't want to post a 'city-approved' placard in the nice house that I rent, especially if it is not a part of my decor.

Here is my advice to the city: If you really want to disseminate information, at a cost-effective price, use your website. You already own one. Ask your programmer to write an HTML page (PHP scripts can add a touch of interactiveness to it too) containing all of the information you feel we renters ought to know. You will effectively save the difference between the cost of paying one programmer to upload the files to your site as oppose to printing some gaudy placard and enforcing the posting of them.

Erin Graham 4 years, 3 months ago

Maybe the website could even be used to file complaints.

Erin Graham 4 years, 3 months ago

This is an excellent direction. But, instead of placards, perhaps a compromise that would satisfy all parties: As part of licensing requirements, all landlords must include information on where to file a complaint in the lease. The language in the complaint section must be uniform (all landlords use the same language as provided by the commission). As for tenants already living in units- why not do what every landlord in town does and tie a note on each door handle or slip it in the front door? Or send a postcard. No "institutional feel", keeps cost down (or probably the same with postcards), but provides tenants with necessary information that would help protect them.

MerriAnnie Smith 4 years, 3 months ago

Here's a better idea:

Once a year send a postcard with this information to all rental addresses. List a phone number and an online site where tenants can get more information or file a complaint.

Be sure to include penalties for falsely filing claims if the tenant is found to be wrongfully filing complaints with malicious intent.

Beator 4 years, 3 months ago

Good idea. Also, for tenants that don't pay rent or are late paying rent, the city could send a postcard demanding payment. A police car drive by with flashing lights would be useful as well.

Cassie Gilmore 4 years, 3 months ago

This is an absolutely ridiculous idea. I have a lovely home that I don't need degraded by some sign telling me how to file a complaint. I am fully capable of finding the resources I need on my own should that ever be necessary. Man the City Council must think we're a bunch of dumb folks. What a waste of time and money.

Richard Heckler 4 years, 3 months ago

Not every new young tenant is aware they have rights nor are they aware of how to notify the proper authorities. This is not a bad idea. Are rental owners going to list all code violations associated with each respective rental property so new tenants can make an informed decision? Of course not.

I'm not sure how a piece of information placed in each rental establishment in any way degrades a rental resident. Maintaining a slum is quite degrading however that does not seem to bother some property owners.

"Once a year send a postcard with this information to all rental addresses. List a phone number and an online site where tenants can get more information or file a complaint." That is an additional cost annually to taxpayers ..... NOT a great idea! Not a sound plan for reaching all tenants.

The bottom line is some rental owners don't want to spend money to provide a safe place for people to live.

Again are rental owners going to list all code violations associated with each respective rental property so new tenants can make an informed decision? Of course not.

Obviously too many in this industry do not possess the level of discipline or ethics to self govern or else this matter would not be a hot topic.

Surrounding homeowners have rights to peace and tranquility and right to the best possible market value of their investment. Rental properties don't always increase market values of surrounding single family residential.

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