Question 1: Inspection of all rental property with annual fees to owner
By John Sharp
KCMO voters will decide August 7 on whether to create an interior residential rental inspection program to enforce minimum health and safety standards for residential rental units.
The proposal – Question 1 – was put on the ballot by initiative petition with the support of the Kansas City Regional Equity Network after the City Council failed to pass an ordinance establishing such a program. It requires a simple majority to pass.
If approved by voters, the proposal will establish a fee of $20 for the initial application for each rental property permit and a fee of $20 due annually per rental unit to be paid by the property’s owner or the owner’s agent. It prohibits passing this fee on to the renter.
If a unit fails an interior inspection by the City Health Department, a re-inspection fee of $150 will be assessed for the first rental unit, and a $100 re-inspection fee will be assessed for every additional unit requiring re-inspection.
All residential rental property in the city will be covered except for duplexes in which the landlord lives in one of the units.
Inspections primarily will be complaint driven, and anyone can make a complaint. The proposal prohibits retaliation against tenants for making complaints. Besides responding to complaints, the Health Director will determine a percentage of annual random inspections based on the number of permitted residential rental properties.
Any revenue from the fees not needed for operation of the inspection program will be used to prevent childhood lead poisoning and to help low income families relocate from unsafe housing.
Other major cities in the metropolitan area including Independence, Mo., and the Unified Government of Wyandotte County & Kansas City, Ks., have passed similar measures.
Lora McDonald, executive director of the Metro Organization for Racial & Economic Equity who has been going door to door for weeks campaigning for Question 1, said numerous tenants have told her when she has gone to their doors about serious health and safety problems they have complained about that their landlords have failed to remedy, including rodent and insect infestation.
She said she experienced that herself when she lived in an apartment with black mold just outside her son’s bedroom for over six months, and he had a lot of allergies.
“There was no course of action for me,” she said.
Stacey Johnson-Cosby, a real estate agent who opposes the measure, said if the measure passes, “…new investors won’t enter our market because no one wants to deal with red tape and inefficient government bureaucracy that this program brings.”
“Our city has a housing crisis that won’t be helped by fewer investors entering the market. We need more. And we need to focus more on creating good quality housing,” she said.
“We also really need more tenant education. Let’s empower tenants by teaching them what their rights are if they are stuck with a bad landlord who won’t make needed repairs,” she concluded.