Complaints from Kansas Citians about rotting floors, broken fixtures and black mold in rental units often make their way to City Hall. But short of condemning an entire building or advising renters on do-it-yourself remedies, officials currently can’t do much to help.
Prompted by health officials and some neighborhood groups, Councilman Scott Wagner wants to give the city some better tools — and he wants to do it sooner rather than later.
Wagner hopes fellow council members will agree by next Thursday to seek a November vote on an inspection fee for rental properties. His ordinance calls for landlords to pay $25 a year for each rental building they own — whether it’s a single-family home or a multi-unit apartment complex. The city would use the money to hire inspectors to respond to complaints from tenants and neighbors. Owner who failed to fix problems would be subject to higher re-inspection fees.
Wagner’s urgency stems partly from worries that the Missouri legislature might pass legislation next session attempting to preempt cities from passing ordinances requiring fees from landlords. Rep. Gary Cross, a Republican from Lee’s Summit, sponsored a bill to do that this year. Although it didn’t pass, it was voted out of a House committee.
“That may happen again,” Wagner said Thursday, noting that Aug. 24 is the deadline for putting his proposed ordinance on the November ballot.
But a lively hearing before the City Council’s Housing Committee suggested that Wagner may have a hard time satisfying concerns from citizens and other council members in the short time frame.
City Health Department officials showed photos of rental properties in decrepit condition, and noted that unsanitary and dangerous housing results in asthma, lead poisoning and more injuries caused by accidents. Speakers from several community groups said they are besieged with complaints from tenants, but can offer them few remedies other than relocating. Supporters noted that St. Louis and a number of other major cities assess inspection fees, as do Independence, Wyandotte County and some other neighboring cities.
Landlords pushed back. Robert Long, a board member of Landlords Inc., accused the city of wanting to create a “housing czar” who could arbitrarily shut down properties. The fee, he said, would “add to housing costs and decrease the accessible housing supply in the city.”
Long and other landlords also wanted to know if the city planned to take any measures against tenants who damage property and create hazards.
Councilwoman Alissia Canady said she also worried about the ordinance adding to the city’s shortage of affordable housing, and she wondered if the city might be able to come up with more effective ways of responding to tenant complaints
Councilman Quinton Lucas, the committee chairman, said he also had many questions about the fee. “There’s no question that doing something is important,” he said. “How we do it is more important.”
The committee took no vote, and will continue the discussion next Wednesday.
Barbara Shelly is a freelance contributor for KCUR 89.3. You can reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org.