A proposed, citywide rental licensing and inspection program is still not universally loved, but it is one step closer to winning Lawrence City Commission approval.
City commissioners explained, and at times defended, the proposed program to a crowd of about 55 residents at a public forum at Lawrence High School.
Several landlords expressed concerns that the proposal was an overreach by government, and that the city simply should do a better job of educating tenants about the city's existing safe housing laws.
"If we think people feel helpless, why don't we educate them about their own rights?" said Jo Barnes, a Lawrence landlord. "We should enable them to be their own advocates. This proposal is just duplication and government red tape."
But a majority of city commissioners indicated they support the proposal, and a vote on the plan is scheduled for the City Commission's March 25 meeting.
One key detail of the proposal does appear likely to change at that meeting. City Commissioner Jeremy Farmer said he plans to back away from his suggestion that the city run two separate inspection programs — one for rentals in single-family zoned neighborhoods and one for rentals in multifamily zoned neighborhoods. Instead, he is proposing one program with identical rules and incentives for both types of properties.
But other than that, commissioners weren't proposing changes to the program. Farmer said the program is a necessity, even though he believes the majority of Lawrence landlords provide good, safe housing.
"The reality is that governments for years have regulated the many for the actions of the few," Farmer said.
He said the inspection program is particularly needed for low-income renters because they are often to afraid to call in a complaint against their landlords because they don't have any confidence that the system is going to work for them.
The public forum did draw some supporters of the proposed program. Candice Davis, an Oread neighborhood resident who has been a longtime supporter of a rental licensing program, said she's hearing good support out in neighborhoods.
"I'm happy that it appears this commission wants to look out for the common good," Davis said. "That is what this will do."
As proposed, the program has many details. They include:
• A landlord would have only about 10 percent of his or her rentals inspected at any one time.
• Inspectors will use a checklist of 27 life and safety code issues as they inspect rentals.
• If a landlord doesn't have any apartments with more than five violations, the landlord's properties won't be reinspected for another six years. If a landlord has a unit with more than five violations, the city will inspect again in three years.
• The program will cost about $500,000 a year to operate, and will be paid for through registration and inspection fees paid for by landlords.
Commissioners will next discuss the item at their 6:35 p.m. meeting on March 25 at City Hall.