Archive for Thursday, July 27, 2006

Taskforce to study rental scrutiny

July 27, 2006

At the suggestion of De Soto City Administrator Pat Guilfoyle, a taskforce will soon start working on a yearlong review that could lead to landlord licensing and rental inspections.

Guilfoyle made the pitch to study a possible rental inspection program last Thursday to the De Soto City Council.

"We're not attempting to demonize landlords, but taking a look at the tendency of some landlords to suck the financial marrow out of a piece of property," he said.

Those landlords, primarily from out-of-town, squeeze all they can from the community without re-investing in their properties, contributing to a downward spiral in neighborhood property values and putting tenants at risk, Guilfoyle said.

City planner Kim Buttrum provided figures to back up Guilfoyle's observations. There are about 560 rental units in De Soto, which represents about a quarter of the city's housing stock, she said.

Rental units will have lower property values than owner-occupied homes in all communities, Buttrum said. But in De Soto the disparity was substantial, she said, with rental units averaging about $50,000 and owner-occupied homes averaging $147,000.

"Those figures represent just the rental properties we've identified," Buttrum said. "We know there will be more."

Among the first tasks would be to develop a list of the city's rental properties and landlords, Guilfoyle said.

What Guilfoyle requested from the council was the appointment of a taskforce that would study a rental inspection program. The city administrator suggested inspections could be scheduled whenever a new tenant moved into a rental home, apartment or trailer or on a regular schedule.

Guilfoyle asked that a number of individuals who helped him put together his presentation serve on the task force. Those individuals include Buttrum, De Soto City Attorney Patrick Reavey, city building inspector Steve Chick, codes enforcement officer Pam Graff, De Soto Multi-Service Center coordinator Jodi Hitchcock, Johnson County Sheriff's Officer community policing deputy Mark Lieker, and one or two council members.

Once he started working on his presentation, he learned the Mid-American Regional Council was also starting to examine the same issue, Guilfoyle said. The research and promotion of that initiative and the successful models offered by such cities as Kansas City, Kan., Mission, Fairway, Lawrence and Merriam should benefit the local taskforce in its work, he said.

Reavey said the Kansas City, Kan., program had been challenged in court on a number of occasions. Each time, the courts found the city had a legitimate right in protecting its citizens, he said.

The program was needed, Councilwoman Mitra Templin said. She related a story of a friend's child who visited a classmate's home, which had a hole in a hallway floor concealed by an area rug.

While supportive of the taskforce, Councilman Ted Morse said the council should be sensitive of landlords' concerns. From personal experience, he knew it was difficult to evict tenants who failed to pay rent or tore up rental property, he said.

It would be wise to appoint a local landlord to the taskforce so that perspective would be represented, Morse and Councilman Tim Maniez said.

The city briefly considered a rental inspection program in the 1990s, only to abandon the plan when landlords argued it was discriminatory because it didn't require the same of single-family homes, Maniez said.

That objection was raised when such a program was proposed for the New Jersey city at which he last worked, Guilfoyle said. Instead of backing down, the governing body agreed to expand the inspection program to include single-family homes up for sale, he said.

That idea had some appeal among the De Soto council members. But they agreed there needed to be a clear definition of what inspections were to accomplish.

They would be limited to basic health and safety issues, such as working smoke alarms and functioning windows, Guilfoyle said. Hitchcock had suggested the inspection standards the U.S. Housing and Urban Development used to qualify housing units for federal rent subsidies, he said.

Guilfoyle said it would take about a year for the task force to complete its work. That process would include two meetings with landlords, Guilfoyle said

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