Final plan requires inspections only when units are vacant
By Allen Edmonds
By the slimmest of margins, the Belton City Council last week enacted a rental inspection program in hopes of reducing the number of poorly maintained and unsafe rental units that had plagued various older sections of the city.
The idea was first hatched in 2017, but failed by a close vote because of reluctance on the part of some councilmembers to mandate indoor inspection of citizens’ residents.
That issue again was the major point of contention in this year’s attempt to pass an ordinance requiring inspection of all rental units in the city.
The Belton Planning Commission as well as a 12-member committee formed especially to hash out the details of such a program before it reached the City Council.
Both bodies unanimously recommended periodic inspections of all rental units, rather than waiting for the units to be vacated.
Part of the issue with inspections only between tenants is that, in the past, the only way to notify city staff that an apartment had been vacated was when city water had been shut off. There are cases that landlords pay the unit’s water bills, however, so there would be no automatic trigger at a change of tenancy.
City Manager Joe Warren, however, told the council that he was confident that city staff would be able to detect a change in tenancy, which would trigger an inspection.
In addition, the new plan would assign the duty of inspecting the units to city staff, rather than placing the responsibility of arranging an appointment with qualified inspectors on the landlord.
When the proposed program was placed on the council agenda earlier this summer, a group of councilmembers led by Dave Clark, recommended removal of the periodic inspection requirement recommended at the committee level.
The change was approved on first reading, but Councilmember Rob Powell proposed an amendment requiring a five-year interval on required inspections whether the units are occupied or not.
He and others supporting the periodic required inspections said they had heard from constituents that they were afraid to contact the city regarding conditions in their rental units due to fear of either being evicted or having their rent raised to unaffordable levels.
However, Clark responded that his communication from constituents was exclusively in the form of, “you’d better have a warrant if you want to come into my house.”
Clark also said he believed it to be unfair that “we’re going to inspect only rental properties and not owner-occupied homes. If we’re going to do this, we might as well go all the way.”
In the end, Powell’s proposal for a five-year interval on required inspections failed by a single vote. In addition to Powell, Angela Kraft, Allyson Lawson and James Pryan voted yes, while Clark, Chris Richardson, Perry Gough and Mayor Norm Larkey voted no.
The final vote on an inspection program triggered by a change of occupancy passed by a single vote with Larkey voting yes instead of no. Bret White was absent.
Larkey had been insistent on passing a program of some type this time around, even if it wasn’t all everyone wanted.
The program will begin next summer, and Larkey emphasized that it can be adjusted in the future if it is found there are shortcomings.