The Missouri General Assembly and Gov. Eric Greitens have taken an important step to make Kansas City a better, safer place to live.
The governor signed a bill this week dealing with municipal borrowing, public administrators, even funeral services. But embedded in the text is an amendment that should help hold some absentee landlords in Kansas City to a higher standard of property maintenance.
Under the new law, limited liability corporations that own property must provide a street address and the name of a “natural person” with management control and responsibility for the rental or unoccupied property.
If that person changes, the LLC has 30 days to update the filing. If the owner fails to file the proper paperwork, the tenant — or the city — can take the company to circuit court.
Kansas City has sought the legislation for years. City officials think the changes will make it harder for out-of-town property owners to dodge complaints for dilapidated homes and vacant properties.
It’s a massive problem. One study for the Federal Reserve found almost 11,000 vacant residential structures in Kansas City at the start of the decade, most of them in the urban core.
That was more than double the national average. And absentee ownership, the study found, was a reason for the elevated numbers.
Absentee ownership can lead to reduced property values, higher insurance premiums and a poorer quality of life for homeowners and renters who can’t or won’t move. Fires and crime are more likely.
Kansas City has taken steps on its own to address the absentee landlord problem. In 2007, it enacted an ordinance requiring owners to annually register their rental properties. In 2009, it added vacant properties to the registration requirement.
But city officials say it is still more difficult than it should be to find someone responsible when a renter’s home needs repair, or an abandoned property sprouts weeds. Wednesday, city data showed 1,986 open cases of vacant property owners who had failed to register.
The new law, the city says, will allow state court jurisdiction to help address the the problem.
The law applies just in Kansas City and Independence, Mo., where absentee ownership is also a challenge.
As The Star reported this week, nearly half of Kansas City’s housing stock consists of rental properties. Roughly three out of every five African-American households are rental homes.
Leasing a home or apartment is an important option for many residents. Home ownership doesn’t cure every problem or guarantee stable neighborhoods.
But landlords who ignore property issues, or neglect required maintenance, or fail to respond to tenant requests can contribute to problem neighborhoods. Any tool that holds them to account is welcome.
Interestingly, Greitens on Wednesday announced a new website where governments and citizens can register complaints about allegedly unneeded regulations. “Government red tape is out of control,” he said.
Some landlords will undoubtedly claim the new law is exactly the kind of “red tape” Greitens is worried about. He properly ignored that potential criticism and signed the bill.
Greitens provided our city with a much-needed tool that could help make this area safer. Kansas Citians should applaud his decision.