KANSAS CITY, Mo. — Tenants' rights are at the forefront at the Kansas City City Council as a growing group tries to pass a 'Tenants Bill of Rights.’
Members of KC Tenants are behind the bill, which would create a Division of the Tenant Advocate in City Hall that would receive $1 million from the general fund each year. The council will take up the proposal again on Wednesday.
The office would provide legal support for tenants and education on tenant rights, as well as investigate tenant claims. It also would open a tenant center, create a tenant phone hotline and could revoke landlord permits.
Additionally, such an office would create a right to counsel for low-income tenants. The city would allocate $650,000 a year to pay for lawyers to handle tenant-landlord legal disputes.
The Bill of Rights would make it illegal to discriminate against tenants based on rental history. Landlords would be required to give tenants a utilities estimate, so they know what they would realistically pay each month. It would also limit how easily landlords can enter an apartment without proper notification and consent.
"I want it to pass yesterday,” James Shelby, a Kansas City, Missouri, resident, said. “I can't get a place to live.”
However, landlords fear if the council passes the proposal as is, there could be consequences. Real estate agent and landlord Stacy Johnson-Cosby said the results “could be devastating to neighborhoods” if the current version passes.
“What it does is extremely limits," she said.
Johnson-Cosby has been in the real estate business for years and argued that the ability to check rental history is important for landlords and neighborhoods.
"It takes away the opportunity to look for criminal history and eviction and past rental history and source of income to make sure the tenant can actually pay the rent,” Johnson-Cosby said, “and so we're moving people into neighborhoods without knowing who we're moving in.”
If passed, Johnson-Cosby said she thinks landlords will choose to do business outside of Kansas City.
"It's absolutely going to send a message to them that not only are you not welcomed, but we're going to severely restrict your business, your ability to do business,” she said.
The goal for Johnson-Cosby is for both sides to work together to create a housing bill of rights with input from each side.
"What we'd like to do is to build a consensus document where we all sit at the table and work together,” Johnson-Cosby said.