Rental, vacant homes contribute to Topeka’s property decline, report shows

TOPEKA (KSNT) – Topeka City Council members are considering taking action after hearing the results of a study on how the city could potentially change the way it handles rental property issues.

Karen Black of 8 May Consulting presented the city’s Strategic, Fair Implementation of Property Maintenance Standards to the city council on Tuesday. It represents the city’s initiative to improve the quality of homes for the benefit of the local population. It also states how the city could better support property maintenance through fair and efficient code enforcement.

The presentation focused on the current state of housing in the city, including the number of homes owned by private landlords and the dilapidated nature of many homes.

National Wall Street investors and local companies are buying hundreds of single-family rental homes, attracted by the city’s low purchase prices, according to Black. One outside investor has purchased more than 30 multifamily homes in recent years. Private landlords buying properties to convert to rentals have caused many homes across the city to fall into state disrepair, the study found.

Black went on to say that Topeka has more houses than households. The city has a total of 60,000 housing units and 54,000 households. According to Black, a total of 72% of the housing units are single-family apartments, and only 22% are multi-family buildings with three or more units. Multifamily buildings with more than five units offer 13,200 rental units, accounting for 28% of the city’s total rental units. The median age of homes in Topeka is 56 years, and many are in need of repair.

The challenge is clear. A drive through many neighborhoods shows too many houses with hanging gutters or sagging porches. Yards have become makeshift landfills in housing estates. Empty houses and buildings fill almost every neighborhood. These decaying and vacant properties increase crime, lower property values ​​and encourage a lack of maintenance and investment.

8 May Consulting Report

Some key findings presented by Black regarding the Topeka code enforcement analysis from 2015 to 2021 include:

  • Property Maintenance has opened approximately 50,000 law enforcement cases on 22,000 properties. 28% of subject property is owned by limited liability corporations (LLCs).
  • Nine out of 10 owners with the most cases are LLCs.
  • Almost 80% of cases are initiated by inspectors and focus on external conditions that inspectors can see from the public right-of-way. Slightly more than 20% of complaints come from tenants, neighbors, other city departments and city council members.
  • Property Maintenance conducts an average of 18,000 inspections per year and each case requires an average of three inspections. Over 60% is due to weed and sanitation violations.
  • Property Maintenance has done about 8000 cuts to cut tall weeds or remove litter or trash from the yard. 17% of properties received more than one reduction. The city recovered
  • 64% abatement costs from owner.

Some possible ways for the city to effectively and fairly enforce the law include the following May 8 Consulting recommendations:

  • Create two alternative enforcement methods for low-income homeowners and chronic offenders and strengthen standard enforcement.
  • Prioritize unsafe and unsanitary conditions within rental properties. The city went in and inspected less than 1% of the rents.
  • Educate owners and tenants about their rights and obligations and work with the community.
  • Use city resources to reduce emissions strategically.
  • Identify, register and take action to reactivate long-term problem properties.
  • Welcoming investments by providing clear rules for repairs that the owner can make.
  • Strengthen data collection and analysis.
  • Update job descriptions for inspectors to reduce turnover and improve customer service skills, hire a residential navigator and consider an additional support staff member.
  • Expand fire safety inspections in multi-family common areas.
  • Transfer vacant properties that are in arrears of taxes to responsible new owners at a tax sale.
  • Record the contract for the works as a first step towards increasing the transparency of a process that often harms or deceives the customer.

To read the full presentation by May 8 Consulting, click here.

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