Last fall, the K-State Student Governing Association voted unanimously to bring the issue of unsafe rental housing for students to the Manhattan City Commission.
According to Patrick Kennedy, senior in finance and SGA’s director of local relations, the City Commission has held two work sessions, one of which many Manhattan landlords attended, regarding the issue of the rental inspection program.
“Once we brought it up to the City Commission last fall, that’s what pretty much opened their eyes, put it back on the docket,” Kennedy said at SGA’s Friday evening meeting.
Karen McCulloh, Manhattan mayor, said the city is currently investigating ways to achieve a higher level of safety for all residents of rental homes after the City of Manhattan – Residential Rental Licensing and Inspection Program was repealed in 2011.
McCulloh said inspections of rental living spaces are currently “on a complaint base,” meaning they are conducted by the code department, a division of the Manhattan Fire Department.
“I would like to see registration, which means I would know in a building how many apartments there are because right now, we don’t always know if there’s a basement apartment or an attic apartment, and that’s not very safe when the cops or the fire department come if they don’t know there might be people in the basement or upstairs,” McCulloh said.
McCulloh said there have been incidents in which authorities have entered the wrong living spaces in response to calls and startled tenants of apartments neighboring the residents who actually placed the calls.
In addition to registration for all units in a building, McCulloh said the city is looking into exterior rental space inspection. The inspection of buildings’ exteriors would consist of officials simply viewing the buildings from the outside briefly and looking for indications that the insides of the buildings may not be up to par with regulations. If these indications were found, the city would go ahead with an inspection of the building’s interior, McCulloh said.
“We’re investigating it,” McCulloh said. “The students are the ones who have come to us and asked, since 1989, for safer housing.”
McCulloh said she believes that students involved in the movement of the housing issue are in the process of creating a “Yelp-like” webpage that will allow students to review rental spaces in town for the benefit of others potentially looking to live there. McCulloh said she finds this student-based project interesting.
“I think that’s a great idea,” McCulloh said. “I think that will get the word out better than maybe inspections could.”
According to Usha Reddi, Manhattan mayor pro tem, the education of both landlords and tenants on what is or is not safe or right about a rental unit is key in the progression of rental-space safety — keeping compromise between the two parties in mind — so new rental-safety strategies from the city do not cost either party financially.
“I think tenants need to know what they’re signing up for, and I think landlords need to make sure that their tenants read everything that they needed to read,” Reddi said.
The issue of safety not only affects student tenants, but all Manhattan tenants, Reddi said.
“When an issue comes up consistently over a period of decades, to me, it’s pretty obvious that there’s a need for rental inspections of some kind,” Reddi said. “But that’s not to say that we don’t have good landlords, or good tenants.”
At Friday’s SGA meeting, Kennedy said the education, registration and exterior rental inspection program that the City Commission is currently working toward is the result of student influence in the community.
“It’s not an issue that is small that we brought up,” Kennedy said. “We brought up a major issue.”