Lawrence rental licensing and inspection program won’t be affected by new Kansas law, city says

photo by: Nick Krug

Lawrence City Hall, 6 E. Sixth St., is pictured on May 3, 2016.

Lawrence’s 2-year-old rental licensing and inspection program will remain unchanged, unaffected by a law the Kansas Legislature passed last month, the city has determined.

Senate Bill 366, which goes into effect July 1, in part prohibits cities from inspecting a rental dwelling without the occupant’s consent. Since Gov. Sam Brownback signed the bill in May, there has been some question as to whether the new law would wipe out Lawrence’s program.

The licensing and inspection program “does not appear to be in conflict” with the new law and Lawrence “does not anticipate amending its residential property code at this time,” according to a statement released Thursday. City Manager Tom Markus will report the finding to the City Commission on Tuesday.

Lawrence’s ordinance on rental inspections requires residential property owners to obtain licenses before they can lease property to tenants. It calls on properties to be inspected on a three-year cycle, and if violations are found, the city does a re-inspection.

Kansas’ new law disallows cities from enforcing residential property licensing ordinances in which consent of the tenants is not required.

The Lawrence ordinance has a “right of entry” provision, giving inspectors the authority to enter any rental unit, after giving the owner 72 hours written notice, if it has “reasonable suspicion” there are unsafe, hazardous conditions inside or a public nuisance.

In those instances, the inspector is required to contact the tenant first. If he or she can’t be reached, or denies permission for the inspector to enter the unit, the inspector can seek an administrative search warrant.

Supporters of the bill signed in May said its purpose was to protect the privacy rights of property owners and tenants and rein in overly zealous building inspectors, the Journal-World reported.

While it was still pending in the Legislature, Lawrence submitted written testimony in opposition to the bill, saying local officials should have the right to “promote the health and safety of residents of their communities.”

At the time Lawrence’s rental inspection and licensing program was adopted in 2014, it was heralded by its supporters for its potential to improve living conditions in the city.

The program’s first year of operation came to a close at the end of 2015. According to an annual report released in May, in one year, inspectors looked at 1,506 rental units and found 1,791 violations.

There were 655 violations for deficient smoke alarms and 363 electrical outlet problems. Other violations were also found with window locks, mechanical appliances, combustion air, handrails and guardrails, plumbing fixtures, egress windows and electrical systems.

There was one case in which a tenant refused to consent to an inspection. An inspector obtained an administrative search warrant and completed the inspection of that unit, according to the annual report.