In case you missed it, a rental inspection program approved by Kansas City voters in August is in effect and inspectors are responding to tenant complaints.

Under the new rules, all landlords must pay $20 to register for a permit. They will also be charged an annual fee of $20 per unit so the health department can hire inspectors to respond to tenant complaints. Additional fees would apply if inspectors have to return to the same property to address unresolved issues.

Although officials won’t begin collecting the fees until next year, a group of inspectors in the health department has begun responding to some numerous complaints they have received since Election Day.

Environmental Health Services manager Naser Jouhari says inspectors right now are only responding to tenant complaints. Random inspections likely won’t begin until late next year, once the program has generated enough revenue to hire more investigators.

Although inspections are underway, there are still a number of details to be worked out in coming months.

For one, the health department must notify and begin registering landlords. Some rental property owners have already reached out and begun the process, but the landlords who get the most tenant complaints might be harder to track down.

Jouhari says applications will be sent first to known landlords. The department also has a plan to track down landlords who live out of state.

“We have access to software that will find who owns the property and we will get their contact information and we will reach out as needed,” Jouhari says.

He says bringing those property owners into compliance and hiring more investigators will make up much of the department’s work over the next few months.

Once the investigators come aboard, the department can begin random inspections.

The department has identified a number of potential health-related violations, ranging from suspicious-looking mold to broken bathroom fixtures and roach infestations.

Jouhari says inspectors won’t be looking for signs of criminal activity or immigration status.

“It is not our call to call law enforcement,” Jouhari says.

The department will, however, make exceptions for extreme cases such as child abuse, he adds.

Jouhari says that just because a complaint comes in to 311 or the health department doesn’t necessarily mean investigators will visit the apartment. They’ll first make sure that tenants have attempted to contact the landlord and then the department itself will reach out to the landlord.

“We have to work closely with landlords. It’s a win-win for both sides. We’ll work as one team to fix the problem and the health deficiencies in these rental properties,” Jouhari says.

If an inspector uncovers conditions that are life threatening, the department may relocate tenants immediately. The hope is to generate enough revenue from the fees to set aside funding for such emergencies.

– Lisa Rodriguez, KCUR

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