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City commission to consider approval of expanded rental licensing program Tuesday
As my trucker buddies and NASCAR friends say, those fellows down at Lawrence City Hall have the “pedal to the metal” these days.
Every City Commission is different in how it goes about its business as the April City Commission elections approach. Some go into a mode where they tackle very few significant issues in the final weeks. Others take the approach that they want to get as much done as possible so the next commission can have a clean slate.
This commission run by Mayor Bob Schumm falls into the latter category. He’s pressing hard to get several issues decided — think the $25 million recreation center, a possible $55 million decision on a new sewer plant and now a major expansion of the city’s rental licensing program.
Commissioners are being asked to approve a new rental licensing and registration ordinance at their Tuesday evening meeting. I’ll bring you a more detailed report, probably on Monday, but until then mark your calendars and here’s a glimpse at the proposal:
• As previously reported, the program would require registration and inspection of all rental properties in the city. Currently, the city’s program only covers rental properties that are in single-family zoned neighborhoods. That means large areas of town — like the Oread neighborhood — don’t have rental inspections, even though they house large numbers of renters.
• Rental units would be inspected once every three years. The city, however, is proposing a system where larger complexes wouldn’t be required to have every unit inspected, but rather a sampling of units could be inspected. For apartment complexes that have 51 units or more, 26 units or 33 percent — whichever is greater — would be inspected once every three years. Apartment complexes with 11 to 50 units would have 11 units or 50 percent — whichever is greater — inspected every three years.
• The inspections would check for several items related to the city’s health and safety code. Importantly, though, the inspection could also be used to issue a citation related to the city’s occupancy code. No more than four unrelated people are supposed to live in an apartment in the city, or no more than three unrelated people in single-family zoned rentals. The code also covers a range of other issues: BBQ grills on decks; leaky roofs; wobbly hand rails; improper egress; and dirty furnace filters, among other things.
• Every apartment in the city would pay a $15 annual license fee. Apartments also would pay a $50 inspection fee in the year that they are due for an inspection. The city is offering a partial rebate on that fee: If a complex averages fewer than five minor violations per unit, the facility would pay a $25 inspection fee the next time it is scheduled to be inspected.
• The city previously has estimated it will cost about $370,000 to expand the rental licensing and inspection program. The proposed fees are designed to allow the program to break even. The city anticipates it will need to hire five new code enforcement officers and two new administrative assistants to staff the program.
• The rental licensing process requires landlords who live more than 40 miles from the city to appoint a resident agent who can be contacted about problems at the landlord’s Lawrence apartments.
• If approved, the city would start hiring new staff members in the second and third quarters of this year, and would start the expanded inspection program in the fourth quarter.
The commission already has expressed some preliminary support for the program. But it will be worth watching because the idea has brought some strong responses from the landlord community. And while this City Commission is working to get this project finalized before the elections, it also is worth remembering that anything can be changed by the new commission to be elected in April. Ask Manhattan about that. Manhattan implemented an expanded rental inspection program, only to see it be discontinued after a new group of commissioners took office.
Lawrence city commissioners meet at 6:35 p.m. on Tuesday at City Hall.