Government & Politics

Overland Park takes step toward cracking down on code-violating landlords

Overland Park is preparing to crack down on landlords.

Code violations among rental properties — from single-family homes to apartment complexes — have been a major problem in the city for years, Jack Messer, director of planning and development services, told the city council at its Committee of the Whole meeting Monday evening.

Typically, the city waits until there is a complaint to address code violations, but because of the high numbers involving rental properties, Overland Park now wants to be proactive rather than reactive to combat the problem.

To do so, the city is looking into enforcing a rental licensing and inspection program for all rental residential properties.

Last spring, a task force featuring city staff and representatives from the rental community was put together to focus on how to structure such a program.

On Monday evening, Messer presented its recommendations to the city council.

The task force recommended a program that, if passed, would begin in July 2016 and be implemented within three years.

With the council’s full support, the task force will hold a public meeting in mid-November to introduce its recommendations to the community.

The city council is expected to vote on the program in either February or March.

The first year, all the rental properties in the city would be identified and each property owner would be required to go through an initial registration process.

In the second year, half the rental properties would be licensed and inspected, and in the third year, the other half.

The program would require only the exterior inspection of each rental building and property. No interior inspections would be required.

Not all of the task force members were on board with the exterior-only inspections proposed in the program, however.

Wendy Wilson, a member of the task force, told the council she wanted to push for interior inspections.

“It’s important for our neighbors and also for the health and safety of the residents living in those units,” she told the council. “Interior inspections can find anything from plumbing issues to mold — there’s a lot hidden on the inside.”

Messer told the council that interior inspections were tricky because going into rental units without permission could cause negative reactions.

He added staff would only perform interior inspections of units if invited by the tenant, owner, or if needed for major health or safety reasons.

After the initial three-year implementation period, the rental licensing and inspection program will be re-evaluated to determine if more frequent inspections or internal inspections are warranted.

Messer told the council the task force hopes the program will improve all rental properties in the city, get rid of bad operators and attract good ones and result in fewer complaints from residents.

The program is estimated to cost around $330,000 annually, possibly to be funded through a fee structure charged to landlords.

An example of the proposed fees, Messer said, could be $60 per building for rental properties that are a single-family, duplex, triplex, fourplex, or townhome. Or $200 per apartment complex.

Those numbers are not set.

After his presentation, council members expressed their satisfaction with all the hard work the task force has done in the past six months.

Councilman John Skubal agreed that interior inspections of rental properties was not something to dive into head first.

“I’m very excited to get this program started because it looks like a good plan,” he said. “I’m cautious about going into someone’s house though. That seems offensive to me.”

Seated next to him, Councilman Dan Stock offered a more cautious opinion on the program.

“Overland Park has a certain culture — we’re not intrusive, we wait for complaints,” he said. “This changes things. I’m not opposed to this program, but I think we need to walk before we run.”

Councilman David White concurred.

“I’m a person who doesn’t like the government stepping in, but because there is such a massive problem with code violations in this area, I think it’s necessary,” he said. “It needs to be improved.”

After the council discussed the recommendations, a few task force members offered their thanks to the city for being included.

“Generally, there is a bias against rental property owners and renters as a class,” said Sam Alpert of the Heartland Apartment Association, which represents around 90,000 units in the Kansas City area. “Many times they’re not received on an equal level as the rest of the citizenry. In all my years being on similar task forces, this has been the most thorough process I’ve experienced. To allow stakeholders in the process early enough to make an impact is important and we’re very grateful.”

Jennifer Bhargava: bhargava913@gmail.com

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