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."