Elections

‘Healthy Homes’ measure for inspecting rental properties in Kansas City passes

The Healthy Homes initiative is intended to expand inspections of rental units, protect tenants and preserve affordable housing that might otherwise have to be abandoned.
The Healthy Homes initiative is intended to expand inspections of rental units, protect tenants and preserve affordable housing that might otherwise have to be abandoned. Big Stock Photo

Kansas City health inspectors will be able to investigate complaints of poor or hazardous conditions in rental housing under a ballot question approved by voters Tuesday.

The “Healthy Homes” initiative (Question 1) passed handily north and south of the river, winning about 56 percent of the vote, according to unofficial returns.

The health department usually inspects rental homes and apartments for potential lead hazards. Under Healthy Homes, inspectors will respond to tenant complaints about a broader range of conditions, including mold and cockroaches, common sources of childhood asthma.

Inspectors will also conduct a limited number of random, unannounced visits to properties that they suspect pose hazards.

The system will be funded by a $20 per unit annual fee from landlords, due when they register their properties with the city. If problems go uncorrected after an initial inspection, landlords must pay a $150 re-inspection fee. Subsequent inspections will cost $100.

Forty-six percent of the city’s population lives in rental housing, according to census data. City research shows more than 23,000 Kansas City tenants have “one or more severe housing conditions,” such as lack of complete kitchens, inadequate plumbing and serious overcrowding. In some low-income neighborhoods, as many as 42 percent of renters said they had unresolved maintenance issues.

More than 60 cities and towns have some kind of rental inspection system, including Independence, Overland Park and the Unified Government of Wyandotte County/Kansas City, Kansas.

Landlords fought the proposal, contending that it would increase rents as the costs are passed on to tenants. Some property owners promised to sell their holdings, potentially diminishing the inventory of affordable rental housing.

Healthy Homes originated in the City Council last summer as a proposed ballot measure sponsored by Mayor Pro Tem Scott Wagner. But it died in the council’s Housing Committee after protests from the real estate community and questions from committee members about its potential effectiveness.

Wagner, a candidate for mayor, helped housing advocates place the proposal on the ballot with petition signatures.

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