“If this group chooses to take action, I’m wholeheartedly in support of it,” Wagner said. “If you want the council to take another crack at it, I’m wholeheartedly in support of that, too.”
So, let’s go after ALL TENANTS and inspect their homes because they are not capable of selecting a quality home for themselves that is not in deplorable condition, they have no resources to go to for help should the landlord fail to keep the unit in safe living condition and if they are forced to leave the deplorable unit, they don’t have the money or the income to move out.
KCUR reports that a group of Advocates for tenants and low-income folks in Kansas City are working with Michael Duffy of Legal Aid of Western Missouri on petition language while they decide if they want to have a petition drive in mid October, to possibly put a new Rental Licensing and Inspection Ordinance on the Ballot at some point.
The report states that the petition would seek at $25 fee on all rental units, not per property, so could cost multifamily owners and owners of multiple properties a lot in registration fees. And they are proposing inspections at regular intervals rather than on the complaint based system that had originally been proposed to the City Councils Housing Committee.
It is important to note that the Advocacy groups do have a valid reason for wanting to help the low-income tenants who end up living in sub standard housing. As fellow citizens, the landlords and property owners at Mid-America Association of Real Estate Investors do not want anyone to have to live in a mold invested, rodent infested, dilapidated property. These properties put a blight on the blocks where they exist, lower property values and make it tougher for the good owners to be able to rent their properties and bring in quality paying tenants.
It would also be important to note a few other things.
The Fourth Amendment of the Constitution provides “The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by Oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.”
Most constitutional lawyers take this to mean that even rental tenants, rich ones, poor ones, law-abiding ones and criminals all have the right to not have their homes walked through by police and by extension city inspectors without a warrant and a warrant cannot be issued without just cause. And an “administrative warrant” that many cities are issuing are coming with at just cause of the city wants to inspect the house and no other reason.
Across the country Landlords, Property Owners and TENANTS are bringing suit against cities for their rental licensing and inspection laws and for the most part the Landlords, the Property Owners and the TENANTS are winning those cases. We would assume that the loser pays the bills, so in addition to paying their own attorneys to fight the case, the cities are probably also having to pay the attorneys of the Landlords, the Property Owners and the TENANTS.
A few cases of note
- Illinois Tenants Sue and Win 1998
- Arizona Tenants & Landlord Backs Down City 2002
- Georgia Supreme Court Allows Victory for Renters and Landlords 2006
- Manhattan Kansas Backs Down 2009
- Ohio Rental Property Owners Win 2015
- Pennsylvania Landlord and Tenant Challenging Rental Inspections 2015
- California Property Owner Fights Warrantless Searches 2016
- Other Cases
Who is Responsible?
Many inspection checklists for other cities with similar regulations are inspecting for among other things cleanliness, use of extension cords, clutter in and around furnaces and hot water heaters, feces on the floor, broken windows, dripping faucets.
Take a look at that list again. It can be determined that in about 99.9% of the cases, that when a tenant moved into a rental unit that it was EMPTY, there was no dirt, debris or clutter, that there was no feces or urine on the floor or the walls, that the windows were not broken and that the faucets, for the most part, did not drip.
So for the city to inspect a home and find that the house is dirty, that the tenant uses too many extension cords causing a fire hazard, that they have clutter all over the house especially around the furnace or the hot water heater and that they have feces or urine on the floors or walls . . .
Come on people . . . for those of you who rent now or for those who don’t think back to when you did . . . did you pee on the floor or let your pets poop all over the house . . . Some tenants do, I have seen it . . . did you clutter up your rental and plug in a bunch of extension cords or did your landlord come in and do it for you. Did your kid hit a ball through the window or did the landlord come and break it for you. And for that leaky faucet, did you tell your landlord about it or did you just keep forgetting?
No Other Options?
At one of the lengthy meetings that the KCUR article mentioned, the Health Department Officials said that they wanted these inspections and licensing to create a system similar to the restaurant industry. That if a house was so found to be so horrible, that they could then remove the landlords permit to rent a house if they did not fix the problem.
They further stated that right now, today, with the laws on the books that if a house posed such a huge health hazard that the tenant should not be living there, that they can right now today, step in and relocated the tenant from the property and the landlord who will not fix things, right now today would lose the rental income on that home. At one of those meetings, all of the landlords in the room said to do that, to remove the tenant and stop the flow of rent.
But the Health Department Officials say they do not want to go to that extreme and make people move out of their houses. The landlords and property owners of MAREI ask, why not enforce this option. There are only a small minority of slumlords who do not keep their homes in safe living conditions, relocate those tenants, stop the flow of rent and the slumlords will get the message.
Why not enforce the current rules and regulations to put the slumlord out of business rather than creating new laws to regulating the 95% of the landlord industry who are already maintaining their properties and providing quality housing.
Affordable Housing is a catchphrase. Having quality affordable rental housing is a goal. Everyone who is a tenant seeks out the best home or apartment to rent based on their current income, their past rental history, their job status and criminal history. Everyone reading this has done the same if they have ever rented.
But consider the 95% of the landlords, or really 100% of them, the slumlords included. They own an asset that by keeping it in a certain standard, based on the location, that will demand a certain rent.
Most landlords, the 95% that have very nicely maintained homes want to keep these homes nicely maintained while generating an income. To that end, they screen tenants on quite a few criteria: their monthly income, their credit history, their past rental history, eviction history and in some cases criminal history.
So for those that do not make a living wage because they have no skills and must work at a job meant for a high school student, what can they afford. For those that have been evicted, that the 95% will not rent to, who will rent to them. For those with heinous criminal backgrounds, what landlord will want them in their property?`
These are the folks that end up on friends and families couches for a while. They might turn to nightly rentals in hotels because they only need cash now for rent for the night or the week with no rental application. Or the might end up on the street. These are the folks that most of the slumlords cater to . . they figure that if they are renting their home to just about anyone at half the rate of other quality rentals in the area, then they can provide a product, a rental unit that is substandard.
Will the Slumlords Participate?
Kansas City Missouri currently has a rental property registration program. We ask, that based on all these complaints that the advocacy agencies receive from tenants, are their units in registered rentals. Do these units already have code violation complaints based on the outside of the homes?
We don’t have the data on this, but we would be willing to bet that in most cases, the Slumlords are not registering their rentals and that there are numerous housing code violations time after time.
So one would think that if the Slumlords, which is the problem everyone wants to fix – city, advocacy groups, most landlords, etc . . . if these Slumlords do not currently register with the rental program now and have numerous code violations now . . . HOW ON EARTH DOES MAKING NEW LAWS MAKE THEM PARTICIPATE IN THE FUTURE?
The Core Issue
These issues seem to be in our urban core and older neighborhoods. And to address the problem of older housing stock that has lost its value for many varied reasons: people moving to the suburbs, crime, poor schools, lack of places to shop, lack of places to work . . . we are going to create laws to regulate the landlord. How does this help?
How does this help? Look at the older areas, the urban core . . would you want to buy a house and rent it out? Over the past 20 years, many landlords AND homeowners in our urban cores have given up, sold out or abandoned properties to taxes and the bank. Fewer and fewer people want to own rentals in the urban core, they are hard to keep tenanted, they get vandalized almost a lot and the owner must make twice as much in rental income to keep them maintained because of the vandalism, because of the evictions and tenants abandoning properties in the night, because they are 70 to 100-year-old properties or more. Take a look at the ownership of many of our urban core homes and you are going to find that a lot of them are owned by absentee, out of state, out of the country, and hedge fund owners.
The Landlords and Property Owners at MAREI contend that poor rentals and run down houses did not cause people to leave the older neighborhoods – the lack of jobs, the crime, the lack of maintenance on city streets and sidewalks, the sewers backing up in basements, the spiney balls from city planted trees . . . caused the problem. People wanting to move to newer housing, closer to their job, where there are fun things to do and great grocery stores to shop, nice malls all of that caused people to leave the older areas – the urban cores of Kansas City. And fighting with the city over the run-down vacant houses and lots the city does or does not maintain next to their units, the obsolete water system and water departments billing practices and lack of shutting off water to tenants who do not pay bills, over-regulation and other city government issues are causing more landlords to give up – – I used to own 50 rental properties and have spoken with many other former Kansas City Missouri Landlords that gave up and sold out.
This flight of people out of the city caused the values of the homes to decline, so much that in many areas it is not economically feasible or prudent to fix them. They might be rented for a while, but eventually they are going to go vacant and get abandon to the bank or the the county for taxes. According to an Email exchange with Scott Wagner, this writer was told that Kansas City Missouri receives about 600 houses from the tax sale every year.
A search of the Land Bank Website today shows 4,140 properties available, all south of the river and most between Troost Avenue and the Zoo.
Who wants to take over a home that needs over $50,000 and in many cases $100,000 in repairs to make it livable when it has a resale value of under $50,000, even if the city or the county would provide them for free.
- Speed up the Tax Foreclosure process: a home in our urban core does not get sold until taxes have not been paid for 4 years and if the owner can pay the oldest of those 4 years every year for a while, it could be 5 or 6 years before the city successfully forecloses. And 5 or 6 years of a home not being maintained leaves over 4000 houses for the city to deal with in 2017.
- Economic Development: in the Hyde Park neighborhoods a redevelopment program was started that provided funding for code violations renovations and at the same time built several retail stores that provided jobs in the area, creating new businesses around them. Redevelopment projects like this in the urban core would work, would make the homes more desirable, more valuable and people would buy them and fix them up.
- Education and Training Programs: Watch the news and the poor folks that live in these substandard homes want to get paid $15 an hour to work at a fast food joint or a convenience store. Rather than inspecting registering and inspecting the reported 65,000 rental units in Kansas City – devote that funding to Educating folks and teaching them job skills so they can afford not to live in a dump.
- Get Amazon to Come Here: Amazon is seeking a new world headquarters. Redevelop some of that urban core into this World Headquarters, Build Support Businesses around this area, build new apartments, town homes . . . provide jobs.
You Can’t Legislate Away Being Poor
I remember a few years back reading in the Kansas City Star about the issues with the Homeless Population of the City . . some people wanted to build facilities to help the homeless with mental health, job skills, bathing, food, etc but no one wants the shelters in their area.
I see on the news that some cites tear down the tent cities and throw away the stuff. Somehow that is going to make the homeless go away.
So, we have poor people, they have to live somewhere. If they can’t afford a nice new home to buy, or a nice newly built rental unit, or a well maintained older rental unit . . then what. They rent what they can afford and from people who will rent to them.
Or they end up in their car, the tent cities, squatting in warehouses . . .