Archive for Thursday, May 31, 2007

Council signals intent to approve rental inspections

May 31, 2007

After a workshop last Thursday, it appears the De Soto City Council will consider a rental inspection much like the one presented last month, although a required annual licensing fee will apparently be dropped.

The council considered several features of the proposed program, including frequency of inspections, triggers and landlord licensing at the workshop.

In signaling an intention to move forward with the program, the council also agreed the city needed to be more persistent in enforcing city codes and regulations on all neglected properties. That meant, Mayor Dave Anderson said, the council had to be ready to take the heat when residents complained about citations for code violations.

"There's been a tradition of letting things slide," he said. "It's going to rock the boat. We need to support our code enforcer."

When the rental inspection proposal first came before the council last month, a number of landlords complained about the licensing requirement because it is not required of other city businesses.

But it was agreed last Thursday licensing would be required to make the program work. Without the requirement landlords get licenses to operate, there the city would not have the leverage to make landlords comply with the programs requirements, said Councilwoman Mitra Templin, who served on the committee that developed the proposal.

However, it was agreed the annual licensing fee of $25 per landlord wasn't needed and wouldn't provide significant revenue to run the program. Council members signaled a willingness to approve an internal inspection schedule that would have the city's estimated 560 rental units inspected every three years.

The licenses would be due at the first of the year, with the possibility of $500 fines levied against delinquent landlords should they not make application at a still undetermined due date.

Although Councilwoman Betty Cannon suggested rental units should be inspected when vacant and Councilman Mike Drennon proposed units be inspected when there were complaints, it was also agreed to retain the committee's recommendation of a three-year inspectional cycle.

Without a regular schedule, some units would never be inspected because tenants wouldn't complain no matter the conditions, Councilman Tim Maniez said.

That was the committee's rationale, Templin said.

"We came up with three years because that doesn't put an undue burden on anybody," she said. "This whole thing is about compromise, and that's good for the landlord, good for the tenant and good for the city."

Tenant complaints about health and safety issues and three external code complaints could also trigger an inspection.

It was also agreed landlords could request unscheduled inspections during vacancies so as not to disrupt tenants.

Addressing an issue that also concerned some council members, landlord Larry West wondered how the city would get in units occupied by tenants unwilling to let anyone enter.

Landlords had the right to demand entry into units if they gave reasonable time, City Attorney Patrick Reavey said. An uncooperative tenant could be fined, he said.

Landlord Leon Coker's objection was more general. He questioned the need for a program the neighboring cities of Eudora, Tonganoxie and Bonner Springs didn't have and the proposal's constitutionality.

The latter would be an issue, Reavey said. Kansas courts have found on more than one occasion that a Kansas City, Kan., rental inspection program is constitutional.

Reavey said he would have to research Coker's suggestion the program could be avoided through lease-to-own contracts.

The council will consider the program at its June 7 meeting.

Commenting has been disabled for this item.