Kansas House limits local authority on housing, inclusionary zoning

The House of Representatives chamber of the Kansas Statehouse is pictured July 23, 2014 in Topeka.

? The Kansas House advanced two bills Monday that would limit the authority of local governments to enact certain kinds of housing laws, including one that could affect the city of Lawrence’s rental inspection program.

House Bill 2665 would prohibit cities or counties from enacting residential property licensing laws that require periodic interior inspections unless the owner or occupant consents.

Rep. J.R. Claeys, R-Salina, said the bill is intended to protect the Fourth Amendment rights of property owners and tenants to be free from unwarranted searches by government officials.

“This bill is quite simple, and it simply allows a tenant or owner who is occupying a property to say no to a search without a warrant,” he said.

Opponents of the bill called it an attempt to take away control from local units of government, and they said it would deal a setback to successful rental housing programs that some cities have had in place for years.

Rep. Boog Highberger, D-Lawrence, said the city of Lawrence spent considerable time crafting a policy that balances property rights and privacy rights of landlords and tenants with the public health and safety needs of the community.

“If you pass this bill, it’s got the potential to throw out a lot of hard work by a lot of people in my community,” he said. “I think we took a lot of time to craft a solution that respects everyone’s rights and addresses our community needs.”

Under Lawrence’s program, however, Highberger noted that the city cannot conduct an inspection without the tenant’s consent, unless the city obtains an administrative search warrant from a municipal judge.

In Kansas City, Kan., though, a mandatory inspection program has been in place for more than 20 years, and lawmakers from there said it has been critical to protecting the health and safety of people who live in rental housing.

“This works very well for us,” said Rep. Kathy Wolfe Moore, D-Kansas City. “This was the only way we’ve been able to get a handle on some of the unscrupulous absentee landlords.”

Rep. Stan Frownfelter, another Kansas City Democrat, tried unsuccessfully to offer an amendment that would allow cities to require inspections when a landlord first obtains a license, and whenever a rental property changes tenants. He also offered amendments to give Wyandotte County that authority, but all of his proposed amendments were rejected.

The House gave first-round approval to the bill on a 67-55 vote. Final action is expected Tuesday.

Meanwhile, the House also advanced a bill that takes direct aim at one type of affordable housing program that has been discussed in Lawrence. It would prohibit cities from enacting what are called “inclusionary zoning” laws that set aside a certain percentage of housing units within a development for affordable housing.

Senate Bill 366 would prohibit cities from enacting any kind of price controls on the sale or purchase of residential property. The state already has a statute preventing cities from enacting rent control laws.

Highberger, however, added an amendment that would lessen the impact of the law. It adds language that says property owners or developers may enter into voluntary agreements with a city government to set aside units for affordable housing in exchange for grants or other incentives offered by the city.

Still, Highberger said, he objected to the overall bill.

“We are in the unfortunate situation of having higher than average home prices and rentals at the same time as we have below-average income levels,” he said of conditions in Lawrence. “And so our community is very concerned about the ability of people who live in our community to continue to live there and that we have a real mix of incomes and socio-economic backgrounds that makes a community healthy.”

That bill advanced to final action on a voice vote. If approved, it will go back to the Senate to either agree with the House’s amendment or request a conference committee.