The Kansas City Council is poised to begin debating a proposal that could eventually lead to rental property inspections, funded by fees on landlords.
The fee to help fund a “Healthy Homes” rental inspection program must be submitted to voters, and ballot language is slated to go to the council’s Housing Committee on Wednesday. The council must approve ballot language by Aug. 24 to meet the deadline for the November election.
More than 200,000 of Kansas City’s half million residents live in rental units, and Health Department officials say they get many complaints from tenants about unsanitary and unhealthy conditions.
The health department can order a unit vacated if conditions are truly life-threatening, but can’t address mold and other health hazards. A new program would allow the department to hire about three to five inspectors with more clout to issue citations and make landlords fix serious problems.
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“The issue we continue to run into is the lack of ability to respond to people who call and ask us to investigate potential problems,” said Mayor Pro Tem Scott Wagner, who is sponsoring the ballot proposal. “There is a recognized need for something like this.”
The plan has changed from an earlier draft that called for a $90 fee for a single-family home inspection that would be good for three years. Landlords complained that such a fee would penalize the vast majority of good landlords, when only “slumlords” should be regulated.
The latest draft ordinance proposes an annual permit fee of $25 per parcel, not per unit. Inspections would be triggered by complaints, and if a problem were identified and not rectified, a reinspection fee of $150 could apply for the first rental unit, plus $100 for each additional unit. Additional fees could apply for non-compliance.
The Health Department notes that major cities across the U.S. have rental inspection ordinances, including in St. Louis, Indianapolis, Cleveland, Denver and large cities in California. Metro area communities with rental inspection programs include Wyandotte County, Merriam, Overland Park, Leawood and Independence.
Sam Alpert, who represents multi-family apartment owners and managers through the Heartland Apartment Association, said Kansas City’s proposal is less onerous than a previous draft, and staff has listened to some of the landlords’ concerns. He doubted his organization would actively oppose such a measure on the November ballot but defended large rental property owners in the city.
“The vast majority of rental units are in full compliance,” Alpert said.
He also argued that if inspections are a Kansas City priority, the program should be paid for out of the general fund. Wagner responded that the general fund is already stretched thin with all the other functions that the city provides.