After months of working with local tenants, the Kansas City Council is set to consider a historic tenants rights package that supporters believe will further tenants’ protections from unsafe conditions, abusive landlords, and other landlord related factors that contribute to housing insecurity and homelessness.
It’s a fact, Kansas City has a lack of quality affordable housing. In a community where nearly 50% of the citizens rent, this is a problem that lends itself to unscrupulous landlords who often take advantage of tenants. It’s a concern Kansas City Mayor Quinton Lucas understands. During his campaign for office, he regularly shared stories about his childhood and his family’s occasional struggle with homelessness.
Lucas’ spoke regularly about his housing insecurity because the issue of affordable and safe housing was a major issue in the municipal election, thanks in part to the non-profit advocacy group KC Tenants. In the months since Lucas’ election, KC Tenants has held his feet to the fire; to get him to deliver on his campaign promise to take on this issue.
During the past four months, Lucas and others – including Councilwoman Ryana Parks-Shaw and Councilman Brandon Ellington – have worked with the group in the drafting their demands in coordination with legal experts. Finally, their proposals were submitted to the City Council on Oct. 31.
Earlier this week, they were reviewed by the Special Committee on Housing Policy meeting a Kansas City and the City Council will review the package Nov. 7 which includes the Tenant Bill of Rights as well as a resolution and an ordinance that if adopted, will give the changes the force of law.
[On Nov. 7 tenants and advocates, as well as landlords, packed the council chambers, and for about an hour shared stories with the council. The council tabled making a decision til next week. The KC Tenants Bill of Rights will be heard Wed., Nov. 13 at 4 p.m. at City Hall.]
KC Tenants want all three passed together will full funding. Without the funding, there are no resources to put the measures to work, they say.
The resolution affirms the Mayor and council’s commitment to enforcing existing tenant rights and list additional protections designed to give Kansas City tenants more security in their housing.
To ensure implementation and enforcement, the resolution directs the Council to establish, and fund, a Division of Housing and Community Development and, establish under the division, a rental housing assistance unit. The ordinance also establishes a Rental Housing Center that will operate a rental housing hotline, and create a tenants advocate office that would provide tenants council in the eviction process. The packages also proposes the establishment of a relocation assistance fund for low-income tenants facing emergency moves.
The division would be empowered to work the Health Department, which already has responsibility for the city’s Healthy Homes Program that allows tenants with poor housing conditions to report their landlords and have their homes inspected.
The program also empowers the Health Department to protect and enforce the following new tenant rights:
• Right to organize, collectively bargain, and protection from retaliation
• No passing on permit fees to the tenant
• Limits on security deposits
• Written tenant consent and proper notice before landlord entry
• Disclosures about past issues in the unit and utility estimates and,
• Right to receive a Tenant Bill of Rights document before the start of each tenancy
With the Lucas and several city council members supporting the bill, it appears at least some of these measures will be rolled into a package of ordinances and resolutions that give Kansas City tenants additional rights and protections. Now, just how many of these measurers will be passed and funded, and just how long it might take; who knows.