Lawrence city commissioners at next Tuesday’s meeting are expected to vote to approve a new ordinance designed to correct and improve conditions at thousands of rental units in the city.
More than half of Lawrence’s residents live in rental units, so this matter should be of great concern to the entire community.
The city has a code that deals with the health, safety and welfare of those living in rental property, and the proposed ordinance would not add much other than requiring a license and fee for every landlord and all rental units. Landlords who do not pay for the new license and have inspections can have their units shut down.
City officials estimate this fee would generate sufficient income to fund a larger inspection operation that would cost $500,000 or more. Those favoring the new ordinance claim this action is necessary if the city is to have the manpower to make sure rental units are up to the city’s standards.
Those opposing or questioning the need for the new ordinance point out the city’s code already calls for units to meet certain health, safety and welfare standards and that the city has the right to shut down those who violate the code or refuse to correct questionable conditions.
It is believed most of the city’s larger, newer apartment complexes meet and surpass city code requirements and that most of the non-compliant apartments are located in older homes that have been converted to rental housing.
There are abuses and situations that need to be corrected. Lawrence, particularly as a university city with thousands of students living in off-campus apartments, needs to have good, sound, safe and reasonably priced apartment units. But is a new ordinance needed to achieve this goal when the city code already covers such conditions? Are city commissioners derelict in not demanding that the code be enforced and those in the Planning and Development Services Department be far more active in making sure landlords who fail to meet city code requirements are fined, punished or shut down?
City officials are seeking to limit the program’s burden on good landlords by creating a system where landlords who pass inspections with high scores won’t be inspected again for six years. But why punish or add costs to those landlords who measure up or surpass city code requirements when adherence to the existing code could bring about many improvements?