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New proposal emerges to reduce scope of rental inspection program; city commissioners to debate increasing salaries of commissioners

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Getting a new rental licensing and inspection program approved at Lawrence City Hall has become a bit like me trying to walk down my icy driveway this morning: It can be painful on the backside of the anatomy.

Commissioners have been struggling for more than a year to pass a program that essentially would require inspections of every rental unit in the city. Now, a new proposal has emerged. Mayor Mike Dever and Commissioner Mike Amyx have proposed a significant set of changes to the scope of the program. The changes likely will be met with favor from those in the landlord community but may spark concerns among some of the more fervent supporters of the rental licensing program.

Here's a look at some of the larger proposed changes:

— The licensing and inspection program would have an automatic sunset at the end of 2017. In other words, the commission in place in 2017 would have to vote to extend the program, or else it would automatically end.

— The list of items city inspectors could cite as violations would be reduced by more than half. Dever and Amyx are proposing to eliminate 38 items that previously could have been cited as violations. The new list includes 28 violations. Some of the items that no longer would be violations for the purposes of the rental license include: missing handrails on balconies or stairways; clothes dryers that are not properly vented; minimum standards for kitchen and bathroom spaces; and minimum ceiling heights for habitable rooms. You can see the complete list of what was eliminated and what remains by clicking here.

It is important to note that the items that are proposed for elimination still would be a violation of city code, but they wouldn't be held against a landlord for purposes of issuing a license for a rental unit. I talked a bit with Mayor Dever this morning and asked him what would happen if a city inspector saw an item that was a violation of city code but wasn't one of the items he was instructed to look for as part of the rental inspection. For example, an inspector notices a third-story balcony has a missing or very loose railing. Dever said a process will have to be established to deal with those situations, but he said one possibility is that the inspector would note it, and a follow-up inspection would be scheduled. The follow-up inspection would have no bearing on whether the rental unit could receive a license, but the landlord could be found in violation of a city code and be forced to fix the issue and pay a fine.

— There is new language in the proposed ordinance that may make it more difficult for city officials to prosecute a landlord for having too many residents living in a rental unit. Language was added to the ordinance that says a landlord is only in violation of the occupancy code if the landlord knew there were too many people living in the unit. In other words, the city could still take action to reduce the number of people living in the unit, but it couldn't seek to prosecute the landlord for the violation, unless the city could prove the landlord knew about the over occupancy. The city has found it difficult to prosecute over-occupancy cases under the current system. This additional level of proof likely will make the task more difficult.

— The city would be required to give tenants of rental units at least 72 hours notice before any inspection is conducted in their apartments. The ordinance also makes it clear that the tenant has the right to refuse an inspection, but the city also has the right to seek an administrative search warrant, which would allow an inspection to occur against the tenant's wishes.

I'll seek to bring you more reaction to the proposed changes later today. But I'm guessing it will be a spirited meeting on Tuesday. Previously, Commissioners Bob Schumm and Terry Riordan had expressed general support for the previous proposal. Dever and Amyx had expressed concern over the last draft. That leaves Commissioner Jeremy Farmer, who has said he believes an inspection program is needed but has questioned some of its elements. The meeting is set for 6:35 p.m. Tuesday at City Hall.

In other news and notes from around town:

• Lawrence City Hall may be a ball of fun on Tuesday. In addition to the rental licensing program, commissioners also will be discussing a topic too hot to touch for the last 14 years: commissioner pay.

Over the years, several commissioners, as they were leaving office, have suggested that the commission really ought to examine the pay scale for the City Commission. Currently, commissioners are paid $9,000 per year, although the mayor gets $10,000. It has been that way for the last 14 years.

Ideas have been floated that commissioners should make anywhere from $19,000 a year to near $30,000 a year. The $30,000 a year range would put Lawrence in the upper tier of salaries for other cities surveyed by Lawrence officials. But it would be in line with what Douglas County commissioners are paid. You can see a list of salaries for commissioners in area cities, by clicking here.

Dever told me this morning that his proposal will be that no pay increase takes place until after elections are held again. In other words, sitting commissioners would not receive a pay increase, unless and until they were re-elected.

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  • Comments

    Richard Heckler 1 year ago

    Do neighboring live in homeowners have any rights to privacy and maintaining property values?

    John Graham 1 year ago

    So these commissioners want to increase their salary (after a re-election) to substantially more than the vast majority of other nearby communities. They are already getting paid more than many communities in the comparison. If you throw out the high and the low, and average the other communities pay, you would see the current pay is quite good. How are they justifying such a large pay raise? Why should they be paid 3 to 5 times (or more) what other communities are paying? If this is such a bad job why do they keep running for re-election? No one is forcing them to take the job of commissioner. NO to pay raise.

    Joshua Montgomery 1 year ago

    Mr. Graham, I believe you are in the wrong here. Having worked with City commissioners extensively over the past 7 years, I can tell you that the job takes at least two man-days per week, possibly more.

    The way it is set up now, only members of the community with substantial financial resources and very flexible working schedules can afford to serve on the commission.

    County commissioners make substantially more and manage a smaller budget with fewer staff members and services.

    If we want to have a commission that better represents the demographics of our community, it is important to pay them for their time. That way a bank teller, teacher or nurse can afford to serve.

    A well paid commission will have more time and resources to engage directly with issues and would be less reliant on staff. City commissioners are accountable to the public. Staff are not.

    Right now being a commissioner involves making substantial sacrifices of time and income. That is why many citizens who would make good candidates are unable to throw their hat in the ring.

    John Graham 1 year ago

    No I don't believe I am in the wrong. If you follow the link in the original article you will see a spread sheet outlining the pay and benefits of commissioners in several communities in the general area. The current pay for Lawrence commissioners place them well above average. A raise to $20-30k per year would clearly place them at the very top of pay scales. The commissioners would be paid more than those from larger communities.

    There were several people running for commissioner so the pay was not scaring them off. There is no objective data you provide that commissioners are losing substantial income in order to be a commissioner. If they are then that is their choice since they chose to run.

    The idea that more pay would allow them to do more is not substantiated by any objective data. What would they do that they are not doing now? The city manager runs the day to day operations of the city.

    You state that only those with substantial financial resources can afford to be a commissioner. Why? The meetings are in the evenings. There is no reason a teacher or bank teller could not be a commissioner if they wanted to run.

    In short despite your statements you have not provided any evidence to back up your theory. I find it hard to believe that with Lawrence already paying above average for this part of the country, that increasing pay is necessary. That would indicate that practically every city in the region is grossly underpaying their commissioners. The fact that county commissioners get paid more does not justify paying the city commissioners more. Maybe the county commissioners are overpaid. But comparing city commissioners to city commissioners shows that the Lawrence city commissioners are not underpaid.

    You state the commissioner job takes two man days per week. I seriously doubt each commissioner is spending 16 hours per week solely on city commission work. If that is what you mean then there will need to be substantial objective proof to convince me that each one is spending 16 hours per work solely on city business. If you mean the total of all commissioners combined is 16 hours per week that would be more reasonable. That would be equal to 3 hours and 12 minutes per week average per commissioner. That would work out to 166 hours and 24 min per year. That works out to $54 per hour of time worked. Quite a fair pay rate.

    Ted Morehouse 1 year ago

    BOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOM!!! nice work John

    Lawrence Morgan 1 year ago

    I agree with Mr. Montgomery completely. Teachers and other workers are very tired after a day's work, and teachers, especially, have work to do for tomorrow's class.

    I'll be quite frank - Mr. Graham apparently does not know teachers or anyone else of the working class. We need more working class people to be involved with the city. I can't believe what he says: "You state that only those with substantial financial resources can afford to be a commissioner. Why? The meetings are in the evenings. There is no reason a teacher or bank teller could not be a commissioner if they wanted to run."

    He has led a very privileged life not to know the life and situation of most of the working-class people of Lawrence, including many small business men, who work far more than 8 hours each day just to keep things running.

    John Graham 1 year ago

    Mr Morgan your assumptions about me are incorrect. Contrary to your statement, I am well aware of "working class" people. I am sure the average teacher, nurse or bank teller is tired at the end of the day just like most people that work. You even state small business men often work more than 8 hours to keep things running. It just so happens that the current commissioners (none of which I am related to, know in any manner, or in fact a fan of) all happen to be small business people. I am sure they would tell you that they, as you indicate above, all work many hours just to keep their businesses running and are tired at the end of the day just like a teacher, nurse or bank teller might be.

    Mr Montgomery above indicated that teachers, bank tellers and nurses could run to be commissioner if the job paid better ($20-30k per year). I was responding that the job which is part time pays reasonably compared to other communities and in fact paid better than most. Is being a commissioner a time constraint? I am sure it is. But the small business men that you pointed out often work more than 8 hours a day just to keep things running are able to make time to be a commissioner, then it should not be impossible for a bank teller, teacher, or nurse to do the same if they so choose. Would it be a time constraint? I am sure it would be just like for the current group of commissioners. Just to point out there are two commissioners in Manhattan, KS that happen to be teachers. One in elementary education and one at a junior college.

    Just for your info I happen to be very good friends with four teachers so I am well aware of a typical day in the life of a teacher.

    John Graham 1 year ago

    Olathe has a city commissioner that is a working nurse practitioner. So Mr Morgan it would appear that teachers and nurses can find time to be city commissioners in other comparable communities in the area. By the way both Manhattan and Olathe pay their city commissioners less than what Lawrence currently pays so that argues against Mr Montgomery's statement above that the pay needs to be increased to get teachers and nurses as a commissioner.

    John Graham 1 year ago

    Last but not least Mr Morgan I take offense at your statement I have led a "very privileged" life. In my "very privileged" life, I started working in sixth grade washing dishes and mopping floors in a restaurant. I have also washed dishes and mopped floors in a bakery, stocked shelves in a grocery store, delivered pizza, delivered prescriptions for a pharmacy, waited tables, worked in a convenience store, built roof and floor trusses, and worked on a bridge building crew among other jobs. I managed a 4.0 GPA in high school, graduating valedictorian while working 6 days a week (after school and weekends) averaging 30 hours per week during school and 40+ hours per week during summer. In college I graduated with highest distinction from KU with a >3.9 GPA in chemistry while working part time during school and full time during the summers. While those jobs I listed above were not ultimately my career, my career required extensive schooling beyond undergraduate and intensive training that led to a career that required on average many more than 40 hours per week. So I hardly believe I led a "very privileged" life. I have worked very hard for what I accomplished. Like the majority of people that have worked hard to get where they are in life I am proud of my efforts. I listed the above not to suggest I have done something that millions and millions of others haven't also done but to refute your accusation about me. Your statement that I had led a "very privileged" life is completely inaccurate and grossly offensive.

    Richard Heckler 1 year ago

    Let the voters decide on pay raises? Where will the money come from? Perhaps at the same time voters should be allowed to vote in limits on campaign spending. I believe large spending that local special interests provide to campaigns is a huge detriment to to those who wish to bring higher standards to our governing bodies.

    meanwhile.

    Shouldn’t “neighborhood single family dwellings” converted to rental property provide enough off street parking to meet demand? We know rental units can create monster parking problems.

    Shouldn't all rental properties provide the maximum number of off street parking spaces as most other business operations are required to do? What if Dillions provided only 10 parking spaces or Target only 15? Some single family rentals can attract 6-8 cars.

    Lenexa,Overland Park,Leavenworth,Roeland Park, Prairie Village, Westwood, Merriam,Leawood and Kansas City have rental programs. Iowa City has had a program since 1970.

    Performance Audit: Rental Housing Licensing Program – February 2012 can be procured through City Hall. A ton of information. http://www.lawrenceks.org/assets/agendas/cc/2012/02-28-12/auditor_performance_audit_rental_housign_program.pdf

    Code Enforcement - some facts http://www.lawrenceks.org/pds/code_enforcement

    Richard Heckler 1 year ago

    How many landlords are going to disclose to new tenants all of the code violations within a structure so that a tenant can decide whether or not that rental space is a wise decision?

    Do neighboring owner live in residents have any right to the best possible market value of their property?

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