The Garden City Telegram
10/26/2013
OPINIONS AND COMMENTARY

Safe talk

Local officials should pursue safety-minded rental changes.

It's always good to hear talk of ways to make the community safer.

Such was the case during a recent joint meeting of local government officials, when the topic of rental inspections materialized again.

The subject has been taken up a number of times in recent years, and garnered more needed attention after a 2012 fire at a Finney County rental property killed 26-year-old Nichole Savoy and her daughters, Bryn, 6, and 22-month-old Madelyn.

The home did not have a smoke detector, even though state law requires property owners to provide and install the devices. The longtime landlord and owner of numerous other local rentals claimed he didn't know the smoke detector requirement — a sad and shocking revelation.

With such alarming shortcomings in mind, credit Garden City Commissioner Melvin Dale for being vocal about the need for change. He would like to see some sort of monitoring and inspection program so renters know when they sign a lease that the housing meets such basic standards as running water and smoke detectors.

The current system, unfortunately, requires complaints from tenants before properties must be checked out. But with a severe housing shortage, a renter may fear complaining could get them kicked out of their home.

Another concern would be in the high number of foreign-born residents who rent locally and may not understand how the complaint-driven system works.

Possible new strategies cited include annual rental inspections, inspections when new tenants move in, or tenants and landlords working together on inspection checklists.

Any plan moving forward should see the city and county working together on an inspection plan that encompasses residential rental properties countywide as a way to prevent landlords hoping to elude city regulations from moving to the county.

Reputable landlords who follow the law — and there are many — have nothing to fear from such scrutiny. Other businesses in town receive periodic inspections, after all. Rental operations, also businesses, should be no different.

While recent discussion was encouraging, action is long overdue. Local officials should pick up the pace in moving toward change that makes the community a safer place to live.