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City Hall

Compromise on Lawrence rental licensing, inspection program unveiled

March 3, 2014

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A revised proposal to license apartments in Lawrence gives new concessions to landlords, but it may be the compromise needed to win the necessary city commission votes.

Mayor Mike Dever, who voted against the previous rental licensing proposal, said he feels much better about a compromise version crafted by Commissioner Jeremy Farmer.

"I feel pretty comfortable that many of my concerns have been addressed," Dever said.

Rental Chat

Lawrence City Commissioner Jeremy Farmer will take questions about the latest rental licensing and inspection proposal. Farmer will chat at 11 a.m. on Thursday at ljworld.com. Click here to submit a question early.

The basics of the new plan:

• The city would adopt a list of 27 violations that would cause an apartment to lose its rental license, and thus become illegal to rent until the violations are fixed. Unlike previous proposals, the list does not include problems that do not pose threats to the life or safety of residents, such as the condition of the yard or whether the siding is in good condition.

Instead, the new master list includes items such as missing windows, exterior doors without locks, badly leaking roofs, issues of structural integrity, missing handrails, nonworking smoke detectors, several electrical issues, too many tenants and several others.

• Landlords would be eligible for an incentive program if a property passed inspection with five or fewer violations. The incentive is that the landlord would have properties inspected every six years instead of every three years. That's a change from a previous proposal, where a property could have a number of minor violations and still qualify for the incentive program, but it could not have any major violations. The new list of 27 violations includes many items that previously were classified as major violations. Theoretically, an apartment could have several significant violations — such as a badly leaking roof, mold and missing smoke detectors — and still qualify for the city incentive program, once the violations were corrected.

Farmer said he thinks such instances will be rare, but said city officials will monitor the program closely in its first few months.

"If we find that we're giving the incentive to some really shady landlords, we can go back and look at the ordinance again," Farmer said.

• City inspectors would be allowed to issue citations for code violations that aren't part of the master list of 27 items. But those violations — items such as stuck windows, holes in Sheetrock, or rubbish in the yard — couldn't be used to deny a landlord a rental license. Instead, the landlord would be subject to ordinary fines and enforcement actions if the violations aren't fixed.

• The city would not ask tenants to sign a consent form when they move into their apartments allowing inspectors to take pictures/video of alleged code violations. If during an initial inspection an inspector believes pictures or video are needed to document a violation, the inspector would seek permission from the tenant at that point.

• The program would create two distinct inspection standards for rental units in the city — one for rental units in neighborhoods zoned single-family and another for apartments in multi-family areas. Originally, staff members wanted both sets of rentals to fall under the same inspection ordinance.

Single-family rental units already are part of an inspection and licensing program. Farmer is proposing that none of the standards for the single-family rental inspection program change. That would mean single-family landlords won't be eligible for the same incentive system offered to landlords of multi-family zoned property. Under Farmer's proposal, though, the single-family inspection and registration fees — paid by landlords — would be increased by about $9 per year, per unit, on average.

Farmer said he thought trying to educate both single-family and multi-family landlords about a new program would be too much to accomplish at the same time.

City Commissioner Terry Riordan, who previously has supported a more stringent licensing proposal, said he is uncertain about creating a two-tiered system.

"I'm not sure that is a good thing to do," Riordan said. "That is my biggest concern right now."

But Riordan stopped short of saying the provision was a deal-breaker. He said he's looking for a way to support Farmer's proposal because wants to see a licensing and inspection program put in place. The commission has been split on the proposed program. Dever and City Commissioner Mike Amyx expressed opposition to a previous proposal. Riordan and Commissioner Bob Schumm expressed support. That was when Farmer began looking for a compromise.

"What I know is that we all want safe housing," Farmer said. "We just need to figure out the vehicle to get there."

The program would cover about 20,000 rental units per year, although not all of those units would be inspected every year. The city proposes using a sampling method that would result in about 5,300 inspections per year. The program is expected to cost about $420,000 per year to operate, funded through registration and inspection fees paid by landlords.

Members of the landlord community or neighborhood associations haven't yet had a chance to publicly weigh in on the new proposal. The city will host a public meeting to discuss it at 6 p.m. March 13 at Lawrence High School. Commissioners are scheduled to take public comment and vote on the proposal at their March 25 meeting.

Comments

Alan Baker 6 months, 3 weeks ago

Chad, why is Farmer is raising the cost of the current single family inspectin program but not changing the program. Have the fees not covered the cost to manage the program. Has the city been subsidizing this program.

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Melinda Henderson 6 months, 3 weeks ago

Yes, the program has been subsidized by the city.

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William Weissbeck 6 months, 3 weeks ago

Strange, seems pretty wish-washy to me. Given that Lawrence is heavily rental dependent, methinks the landlords have the clout with the city commission. Most major towns long ago adopted more stringent ordinances. When I was at KU, the frats and sororities were inspected every year. That was a big reason why the houses on Stewart had to close down.

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