As of 2015, all Lawrence landlords are required to have their rental properties licensed by the city, and in order to get a license they must pass the city’s code inspection. This system is meant to protect renters by requiring properties to be periodically inspected to ensure that they meet all of the minimum safety requirements. Unfortunately, it’s a toothless system that is currently letting many properties slide under the radar, some without ever having been inspected at all.
In 2018 the city of Lawrence reported that only roughly 5% of the city’s rental properties were inspected the previous year though 24% of renters rated their housing as poor, and 35% of renters with children rated their housing as poor. While these results left some of the city commissioners questioning the effectiveness of the program and wondering how it could be improved, it’s important to note that some benefit personally from the program’s lack of thoroughness. Commissioner Matthew Herbert, who owns Renaissance Property Management, told the LJ world that expanding inspections would increase costs to landlords, (who are charged $50 per inspection) which would ultimately cause rents to rise…Hard to imagine considering Lawrence already has one of the highest rental averages in the state.
How It Works
- Under City Ordinance 9110 all rental properties are supposed to be inspected on a 3-year cycle, meaning an inspection may or may not happen during your tenancy.
- However, for owners with multiple units, only 10% of the units are required to be inspected during their inspection year. If those units have more than 5 violations per unit, the city will inspect another 10% of the units. If they don’t, they won’t inspect ANY other units, meaning that hundreds of violations could potentially go unnoticed.
- If the inspector finds recurring violations in similar units, they’ll try to develop a corrective action plan with the landlord. If the landlord fails to cooperate, only then will they order inspections for all of the similar units.
When code inspectors do find violations, they issue a notice to the landlord/owner, and can either demand that the issue is fixed within a certain time period, put the landlord on probation, or even revoke their rental license.
One of the most troubling aspects of this policy is that if a city official finds less than 5 code violations in the inspected units, every property licensed to that landlord will be exempt from inspection for a period of 6 years. While this could be a great way to reward diligent landlords, it also means that hundreds of units owned by large companies will likely get completely ignored.
What You Can Do
The city has an online reporting system set up so that tenants can report suspected code violations. If at any time you are concerned that your living space isn’t meeting the standards the city has set for what is habitable and safe, you should call and have an inspector come out. Your landlord CANNOT retaliate against you for having a code inspection done.
Here is the full list of what the city considers to be actionable code violations. Some common issues include:
- Exposed electrical wires & lack of outlets
- Foundation wall cracks
- Lack of basic kitchen appliances
- Heat not working - Too many renters go without heat in the winter, while landlords drag their feet to get things done. They are legally required to provide heating facilities capable of keeping the unit at at least 68 degrees!
- Faulty windows and doors
- Basic fire safety requirements not being met
Note: It is possible for tenants to be at fault for certain violations, so make sure you are personally in compliance with the rental codes.
If you want to find out if your dwelling has ever been inspected call (785) 832-3345.
You can report code violations online here.
You can also find more information about the rental licensing and inspection program here.