Overland Park & Leawood

Overland Park OKs inspections, licensing for rentals

SHANE KEYSER/Kansas City Star

A new rental licensing and inspection program has officially been adopted in Overland Park.

Despite protest from numerous rental property owners at a public hearing two weeks ago, the city council decided on Monday evening that the program was vital to keeping the city safe and attractive.

The vote was 8-2. Councilmen David White and Jim Kite were in opposition.

The city will require rental property owners to register for the program in July. Then, in July 2017, the city will start collecting fees and inspecting half of the city’s rental properties. The other half will be inspected in July 2018.

There are around 30,000 rental properties in Overland Park.

The new program will cost the city around $330,000.

During a public hearing on the issue on Feb. 1, two dozen speakers expressed concern that the new program wasn’t fair or necessary.

But at several public meetings on the issue in the past year, city staff has emphasized to the council that deteriorating rental properties are drawing crime and racking up code violations.

On Monday evening, Jack Messer, director of planning and development services, told the council that there are parts of the city, especially up north, that are not in good shape.

“We have housing that is aging and a demographic that is changing,” he said. “That enters a cycle of decline.”

Police Chief Frank Donchez told the council that he thought the new program could reduce crime.

“There’s a broken windows theory which states if you have blight, areas where people aren’t keeping up their properties, there’s an increase in crime in those areas,” he said. “That’s a fact. We’ve seen communities at that point turn around because they addressed those issues and cleaned up those properties. We’re not at that point but we sure as heck don’t want to get there in 20 years. It’s not just about policing, it’s about all of us working together to address these issues.”

Council members in support of the program agreed it was a good way of protecting Overland Park’s future.

“This program won’t solve all of our problems, but I think it’s a piece of what we need to have happen in the city in order to move in the right direction,” Councilman John Thompson said.

Councilman David Jenson said the program would benefit all Overland Park residents, especially the ones who currently live near deteriorating rental properties.

“The number one complaint I get through phone calls and e-mails is about property maintenance,” he said. “I have a phone log for 12 years to prove it. This issue is above barking dogs and traffic tickets.”

But White and Kite had reservations.

White, in particular, said the program should only target problem areas, rather than the city as a whole.

“For the life of me, I cannot see how inspecting Prairiefire apartments is going to attack this problem,” he said. “We do have code issues and we have apartment buildings which need to be looked at, but we don’t need to be spreading our talent all over town in a one-size-fits-all thing. It needs to be concentrated.”

White added that he would rather see the $330,000 be spent toward hiring more police officers.

His opinion drew cheers and applause from rental property owners in the audience who opposed the program.

Councilman Richard Collins disagreed.

He told the rest of the council he didn’t believe adding more police officers to the streets would solve the problem in the long run. Besides, he said, once the city passes an ordinance, it’s not set in stone. It can be modified or amended or repealed.

In response, Messer said that after the program has been implemented, city staff will do a thorough analysis of what has worked and what hasn’t work.

The main goals of the program, Messer said, are to improve rental properties, limit bad operators and attract good ones, and improve the rental industry’s image in Overland Park.

He also emphasized that no interior inspections would be done. Exterior inspections will focus on everything from yard maintenance to peeling paint.

Final details about the fees for the program will be discussed and voted upon at a council meeting in April.

Jennifer Bhargava: bhargava913@gmail.com.