Archive for Thursday, June 14, 2007

City Council approves rental inspection/landlord licensing program

June 14, 2007

As it had signaled it would, the De Soto City Council last Thursday approved a landlord registration and rental inspection program.

The program was approved by a 4-1 vote, with Councilwoman Betty Cannon voting no.

The registration provisions of the program won't become effective until the start of next year. Landlords will then have 30 days to apply for a license or be subject to action in municipal court, which City Attorney Patrick Reavey said could result in a $500 fine or jail time.

But the program also allows for inspections off that schedule based on tenant complaints and the outside observable code violations.

City code inspector Steve Chick said the program was necessary because under existing ordinances he had no way to inspect the inside of rental homes or apartments.

The interior inspection consists of a 47-point list, which Chick and council members say are basic safety measures. They include such things as electrical outlet cover plates, intact windows and property vented gas appliances.

Council members stressed once again their intent was to work with, not punish, the city's estimated 45 landlords. With that desire in place, the council agreed to strike Reavey's suggestion that landlords be fined $25 should they not make an effort to correct problems cited by the city inspector or when a landlord doesn't show up for an inspection. Council members agreed the possibility of a fine was enough leverage.

At the council's suggestion, wording was changed to give landlords 30 days notice of an inspection.

The meeting drew a handful of the city's landlords. Leon Coker was the only one to speak out, questioning the ordinance's constitutionality because it treated rental units different than residential homes.

In response, Reavey said the Kansas City, Kan., rental inspection program was upheld in Kansas courts.

But council members also indicated they intended to be evenhanded. At a workshop on the program last month they wanted and expected the city to step up its efforts to enforce city codes.

Despite the council's reassurances to landlords, one outspoken critic of the program said he didn't intend to comply.

"I think it's an absolute travesty that's being forced on a group of people," Randy Johnson said. "I would be very disappointed if any property owner would adhere to it. I know I won't.

"I don't have time to meet them 25 times every three years."

Johnson said there was a problem in De Soto with neglected rental units, but his apartment and those of many other landlords weren't part of the problem.

"They're going about it the wrong way," he said. "If you force the issue, you can force them into making it a livable situation or shut it down."

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