Kansas City Missouri Healthy Homes Initiative and Update

There was a meeting last Wednesday at noon that many MAREI members and concerned citizens attended.  We had a lot of people representing our industry by wearing yellow.  We made the news:

But what does it all mean?

At the meeting, all sides were presented.  The city is very concerned about people living in horrible living conditions.  Like the woman in the video who’s ceiling caved in, or families with children living in houses full of mold, or other awful conditions.  Their concern is that these people just can’t pack up and move because they don’t have the means to go put a new first and last months rent on a new location and then move all their stuff.  So they are stuck in the horrible rental property.

They have tried the rental registration program, that is currently free, but it does not seem to be helping.

The Health Department currently can go in and inspect the home on behalf of the tenant and they can force shut down the rental housing.  Their position is that they don’t want to have to shut down every house and vacate every tenant, just because of some minor issue.

Their solution is the Healthy Homes Program that they want to put on the November Ballot.  It is multiple pages and right now requires rental properties to be registered, by parcel, with a $25 fee.  So a single-family home is $25, a duplex is $25 and 30 unit property is $25.  Right now there is no initial inspection on the property.  It is only to be inspected if someone complains to the right department with the city.  They will inspect for free and if they find no issues, there is no problem.  If they find issues, they will issue a letter to the owner to fix the problems.  They have so many days to fix and then there will be a reinspection and a reinspection fee.  If everything is fixed, all is good, if it is not fixed, well then they will have fines and it gets costly from there.

There was a small group meeting on Friday with Scott Wagner to discuss and get more input from the local industry professionals.  We had members of Landlords Inc, Landlords of Eastern Jackson County, MAREI, Missouri Property Owners Association, Apartment Association of Kansas City, KCRAR, and the Health Department.

From the Health Departments Side, they want something on the books that would allow them to go into properties like they have now, but with options on getting things fixed rather than forcing people out of their homes if the issue is not really life threatening.  They posed us an example of the Restaurant Industry and that they had had huge issues in the past and once they started having them register and get a license, they had a way to force them to comply with inspection issues.  If they did not comply, they would take the license away and they could no longer operate and make money.  They believe that doing the same with the Landlord would force compliance.  Not sure how you force a slumlord to register, how you get people who live in these slum properties with no other options to speak up, and if they do speak up and complain, how you force a landlord to fix anything or pay any fines.

They jokingly offered up to let us register with no fees and to raise the violations and let the violators pay for the program.  Maybe they were serious.  So if the landlords can all register for free and they only have to deal with the situation if someone complains about a problem, would it be OK.  One would think probably, yes.  However, Michael Duffey, the Missouri Legal Aid attorney did speak up and say we should scrap the whole complaint based procedure and inspect all properties.  And Scott Wagner made the comment that if he is not asking for a fee or fines or anything with money, he does not need the voters to vote, that the city council can make a decision all on its own.  If we were to cave on our opposition if they were to take away the $25 registration fee, so they could get this passed easily with only a complaint based system.  The city council could go in down the road and change it to a different inspection program without anyone’s ok, just a vote of the city council.

MAREI’s worry is that if we were to drop our opposition, that they would pass something watered down now and then with a vote of the city council, make it much worse next year.

There will be another meeting this week, the final meeting to determine if it is going to be put on the Ballot in November.  We believe it will be Wednesday, August 23rd at Noon on the 22nd floor at City Hall.  If you are not on the MAREI email list, text the word MAREI to 22828 to get added to our email list for legislative issues.

From MAREI’s perspective, the regulation would not really improve much.

The good landlords out there are already providing decent housing and they would comply.  It would just cost them a registration fee and time and since the program is complaint based, no valid complaints, then no issues.  But what about the bad landlords, the ones who have yet to comply with the registration ordinance that has been in place for 10 years?

Will they register?    Probably not.  MAREI feels they will probably continue to operate as business as usual.  Why, because there is always going to be people that the good landlords will not rent to.  The people with multiple evictions, criminal histories, no money, who can’t afford anything else.  For these people, it is cheap, substandard rentals or the street.  They choose a bad roof over no roof.

We can’t see any way for the city and the Health Department to force slumlords into compliance.  Sure they can send them letters and fine them.  But short of putting the tenants out in the street and guarding the door, how are they going to keep them from renting the property.  And what tenant is going to complain if they know they have no other place to go?

There may be a few who do comply and work to fix up their properties.  However, once they do that, the will have to raise the rent and those poor people will just move to the next slumlord property down the street.

And we also feel that probably a few good landlords along the way will just get fed up with the whole process and sell out and in some areas, the buyers are out of state, out of country and hedge funds, the people the city is complaining about owning in the first place.  Not sure how you can put an out of state or out of country person or a corporation into jail for non-compliance. And are area judges going to put landlords in jail for non-compliance when the jails are overcrowded now with real criminals.