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City commission to consider approval of expanded rental licensing program Tuesday

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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.

Comments

flyin_squirrel 1 year, 7 months ago

More government fees and regulations. Will anyone ever shrink the government or remove laws and fees from the books?

This is a train-wreck coming and the renters are the ones who will be stuck with the fees being added to their rent.

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Boston_Corbett 1 year, 7 months ago

Your concern for the financial well-being of your tenants is laughable.

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tao7 1 year, 7 months ago

Maybe this will spur all those slumlords to fix there places up! This town is so full of crappy rental places that charge more than they should.

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Matthew Herbert 1 year, 7 months ago

and now, with this program, you can count on those who charge more than they should charging $25/year additional rent.

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Boston_Corbett 1 year, 7 months ago

With a typical annual rental expense of $7,000, yes, $25 will absolutely break the bank.

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Richard Heckler 1 year, 7 months ago

Lot of communities in Kansas have a program in place. JOCO is one such program.

Lawrence has nearly 21,000 rental units. No reason why this program cannot support itself on $25-$35 per unit. This is a quite generous bargain compared to other nearby communities.

58% of Lawrence residential is rental. Looks like developers cannot ever get enough.

At the rate the City Commission and Planning Commissioners approve these monster rental projects Lawrence should be 75% rental in the near future. The market will be so much MORE heavily over saturated rental rates will going at $50 per month and no damage deposit required.

It's a renters market as we speak. Renters sharpen your negotiation skills YOU don't have to live anywhere the choices are many.

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richfree 1 year, 7 months ago

Here we go again. Another way of adding to the tax base, this time under the guise of protecting the poor, defenseless tenants from the mean, nasty, evil, money-hungry slumlords. Aren't there enough ordinances on the books now to do away with the crappy rental places ? Additional fees paid to the City will be passed on to the tenants anyhow. Just another backdoor way of raising taxes .

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Boston_Corbett 1 year, 7 months ago

No there are not effective ordinances on the books. This is evidenced by the many crappy and fire-trap rentals which exist in Lawrence.

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George_Braziller 1 year, 7 months ago

No there aren't enough ordinances to deal with crappy rental properties. My neighbor was evicted by the landlord after she called the city to inspect her apartment because of all the health and safety violations she couldn't get the landlord to fix. It's been nine months since she was evicted and the apartment still sits empty because he never addressed any of the violations the city found. He was given ten days to get the work done but the city never did a follow-up inspection to see if it had.

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Matthew Herbert 1 year, 7 months ago

the apartment still sits empty? Seems to me then that the free market has solved the problem. You have a crappy house for rent, people don't rent it, you make no money.

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George_Braziller 1 year, 7 months ago

But people still rent the other apartments in the house. Every one of them has code violations. One woman moved after renting for 21 years because she was fed up with dealing with the current owner who wouldn't repair anything. Another moved out because she came home and her refrigerator was on fire.

The few fire extinguishers are two years out of date, one doesn't have a smoke detector, storm windows taken down a year ago have never been put back up, city was going to shut off the water because he hadn't paid the bill, never mows the yard, never shovels the snow, the list goes on.

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Boston_Corbett 1 year, 7 months ago

No, the free market has solved little: empty apartments, some remain empty, deteriorating my values, and others are rented only to people who can not complain about any code issues, based on their immigrant status. Apartment conditions deteriorate even more. Renaissance, give me a jingle, I can give you lots of addresses Your free market means crap.

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bearded_gnome 1 year, 7 months ago

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.=+$

---a million here, a million there, and soon you're talking about real money! there's supposedly '94 tax dollars, use them for real needs, needs not wants like the rec center white elephant that'll cost the city to operate/lose money.

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Boston_Corbett 1 year, 7 months ago

Gnome.

Bitch and complain all you want, but you will admit that some government organizations exist to protect the rights of individuals. Including those of students. Schumm and the Rock Chalk Park have nothing to do with this immediate issue.

If you want to challenge that statement, we will talk very frankly and forthrightly on these very boards about other organizations and laws and policies which exist to protect and provide funds to groups and individuals which need funding and protection under the law.

Good to see you on the boards again, Gnome.

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kuguardgrl13 1 year, 7 months ago

Have any of you homeowners been in a Lawrence apartment lately? Even the "good" complex apartments have their problems. Your gas lines don't leak because you have a maintenance person who isn't well-trained. You don't leave your furnace for years without testing it only to find it red tagged by Black Hills because it's filthy. The pipes under your sink don't break when you bump them with something. Your shower doesn't back up with years of other people's hair. You don't move into a new house only to find it dirty and have broken appliances. When you shovel your driveway after it snows, you don't have your car blocked in. Most apartments in this town are not worth the $800 a month on average. If I have to pay the fees, so be it. At least then my apartment might not be substandard. And I hope the City Commission requires inspection of the actual units that people live in. The show units are a lie.

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Boston_Corbett 1 year, 7 months ago

Long, long, long, long overdue. We are fortunate that we have not had deaths in the fire-traps in the Oread neighborhood.

Many landlords are good, but there are a significant number of slum-lords and slum-housing out there, especially in the Oread neighborhood.

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mdlund0 1 year, 7 months ago

How about if we wait until after the election to decide some of these things. Is there anything on the list that absolutely cannot wait? I thought not.

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Reuben Turner 1 year, 7 months ago

Well i be.. this might make them slumlords get in gear and clean up their properties

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irvan moore 1 year, 7 months ago

the solution of inspecting rental property in single family neighborhoods didn't address the main pronlem which is the apartments and multi unit housing

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Matthew Herbert 1 year, 7 months ago

with passage of this ordinance, tenants should be very prepared to have landlords 'in their business' to a far greater extreme. I am hoping to see a complete list of what qualifies as "among other things" but under the status quo, I can comfortably rent a house out to a tenant and then give them their privacy. Under this ordinance, if I am to be held financially accountable for a tenant placing a grill on their deck, a tenant removing their own smoke detectors (happens ALL the time), a tenant removing their own furnace filters (I have NO idea why this would be done, but I've seen it happen now twice THIS YEAR on furnaces I went to service) etc... then I have no choice but to come over and check these things out routinely. If tenants are comfortable with me doing routine walk-throughs, comfortable with me raising rents to make up for the $25 fee + $50 inspection fee, then I'm okay with this ordinance.

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Boston_Corbett 1 year, 7 months ago

If it takes more government to get you to walk through your properties and get smoke detectors re-installed and grills off of the deck, so be it! Maybe consider inserting your own "fine" policy in your leases to put some sting in it for the tenants who remove smoke detectors or improperly store bbq grill materials. That way you can make money off this enterprise....because that is what it is all about anyway, isn't it

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flyin_squirrel 1 year, 7 months ago

"Maybe consider inserting your own "fine" policy in your leases to put some sting in it for the tenants who remove smoke detectors or improperly store bbq grill materials."

So now you want landlords to become the policy police for the city and fine the tenants? And on top of that, add more rent to cover the administrative costs for the city?

I guess with this new government and your policies, I no longer can enjoy any privacy...

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Boston_Corbett 1 year, 7 months ago

Renaissance was complaining about tenants removing smoking alarms, and I told him how to fix it. He can't have it both ways. The bottom line is increasing public health and safety in some of these living locations. Yes, landlords should have some significant responsibility to jointly address this issue. It is the slum-lords who have spoiled things for the other landlords.

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George_Braziller 1 year, 7 months ago

Difference is that you aren't paying someone to live there. If there are unsafe conditions the only person you're putting at risk is yourself.

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Ron Holzwarth 1 year, 7 months ago

And your family, your guests, and the firefighters that come to put out the fire, if your careless behavior causes one. Far too many firefighters are hurt and sometimes die in the line of duty fighting needless fires.

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joes_donuts 1 year, 7 months ago

If a place is unsafe, call the city inspection department and they will either force the landlord to fix it or shut it down.

Now you are going to complain that shutting it down puts the tenant out in the cold, well if they are a good tenant they will have no problem finding a new place to live (plenty of vacancies around town). And if they are not a good tenant, maybe they are the cause of the property being shut down...

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George_Braziller 1 year, 7 months ago

The problem with the current ordinance is there's no teeth to it. The city will do an inspection and notify the landlord of the problems but they don't follow-up on it to see if the deficiencies have been corrected.

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Boston_Corbett 1 year, 7 months ago

It is so amazing to listen to the various landords on these boards (especially the bad ones) transfer responsibility to the tenants and others. It also doesn't wash. I cant wait to see all the Oread landlords show up in hoards about this issue.

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swampyankee 1 year, 7 months ago

Sounds like the apartment complex owners would be less accountable

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