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What's next for KCMO's new rental inspection initiative

Posted at 6:32 PM, Aug 08, 2018
and last updated 2018-08-08 19:32:29-04

KANSAS CITY, Mo. -- Health inspectors have a new way to go after bad landlords, thanks to a ballot initiative passed by voters Tuesday night.

The Healthy Homes ordinance allows the Kansas City Health Department to conduct random inspections and respond to complaints of dangerous or unhealthy conditions in rental units in the city.

"Question 1," as it was called on the ballot, received roughly 32,000 yes votes and about 25,000 no votes. 

"It's really a story about David vs. Goliath, and David won," Lora McDonald, Executive Director of MORE^2, said of the results.

The Metro Organization for Racial and Economic Equity has pushed for an inspection program for the past two years, working first through the City Council before mobilizing support to put the issue on the ballot. 

The Healthy Homes program will be funded through a $20 per unit fee for landlords. The money goes toward hiring inspectors, plus relocation fees for families living in dangerous rental units.

According to the health department, the fees will stop there for compliant landlords. The same can't be said for the bad ones. 

"If there's a hole big enough in a toddler's bedroom that I could fall through, and the landlord hasn't fixed that, then yes, we'll charge them $150 a day and we'll keep coming back until it's fixed," Health Department Director Dr. Rex Archer explained. 

The initiative faced pushback from the rental and real estate sector. A political action committee called "Housing for All" spent roughly $30,000 opposing it, citing potential rent hikes and even claiming the ordinance would allow "warrantless police entry."

"Folks can be manipulated through fear. You know these same folks are saying your rent is going to go up $1,000 a month, or you're going to have this or that....that's not how the health department operates," Dr. Archer said in response to the opposition literature.

41 Action News reached out to the Apartment Association of Kansas City, which donated $8,000 to the Housing for All PAC, for reaction to the outcome of the election. Our message was not returned by the time of publication. 

However, we spoke on camera with Stacey Johnson-Cosby, a longtime realtor and landlord who opposed the initiative. 

"The bad landlords never follow the law, and they have properties where the codes they violated weren't enforced anyway, and so none of that changes," she said.

Johnson-Cosby, who is running for KCMO City Council, argued the ordinance creates another taxpayer-funded income stream that doesn't solve the issue of affordable housing.

"We have a lot of experts out here who work in this industry on a day-to-day basis, and the city is fighting us instead of working with us and bringing us to the table. As a result, we're going to try to do it ourselves," she added. 

The city has a long road ahead to get the program up and running. According to Dr. Archer, they'll start by hiring four new inspectors in October. Funding won't come through until January, when landlords register properties and pay their $20 per unit fee. At that point the department will hire four more inspectors, with the eventual goal of hiring a total of 12.

"The problem may be that there'll be so many people complaining that it's going to take us a while to get the staffing up to be able to respond, but at least we'll be able to do more than what we've been able to do, which is basically hear their concerns but not be able to take any action," Archer said.