After years of debate, Lawrence will have a rental licensing and inspection program that will cover essentially every rental unit in the city, but it won't begin as soon as once expected.
A divided, and sometimes quarrelsome, City Commission approved the new program on a 3-2 vote, but agreed that inspections of multi-family rental units won't begin until July 2015. That's six months later than inspections had been proposed to begin.
"We need to do this program, but if we don't get it right in the very beginning, we are going to shoot ourselves in the foot for the long-term," City Commissioner Jeremy Farmer said.
Farmer and commissioners Terry Riordan and Bob Schumm voted for the new program. Mayor Mike Dever and Commissioner Mike Amyx voted against the plan.
The program will:
• Require essentially every landlord in the city to pay an annual license fee to the city, ranging from $14 to $17 per dwelling unit.
• Landlords will have 10 percent of their rental units subject to a city inspection every three years. If the units of landlords score highly enough, they will qualify for an incentive to be inspected every six years. Landlords will pay a $50 fee for each unit inspected.
• Inspectors will be checking for a variety of violations related to health and safety code violations.
Commissioners heard more than an hour's worth of public comment on the proposed program, both for and against the ordinance. But landlords showed up in large numbers to express displeasure with the proposal, saying city commissioners weren't doing a good enough job running the current inspection program that only inspects rentals in single-family zoned neighborhoods.
Commissioners were split on the issue, and even the three who voted for the proposal were divided. Schumm criticized Farmer's proposal to push back the start date of the ordinance for six months, calling it "professional procrastination." Farmer said he was offended by the remark.
Dever said he voted against the proposal, in part, because he thought city staff had done a poor job of collecting data on the current inspection program, and hesaid he had lost trust in staff's ability to communicate on the issue.
But ultimately, the supporters of the program got what they've been seeking for more than five years: a system to make it less likely that renters will live in substandard conditions.
"This absolutely is the responsible thing to do," said Candice Davis, an Oread resident and longtime supporter of the program.