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Landloard liability ordinance deemed legally unenforceable

Staff writer

When City Clerk Stephanie Ax began to explore methods for collecting delinquent water bills under Peabody’s newly enacted landlord liability ordinance, she ran into issues that had not been considered when the city council approved the ordinance June 2.

The ordinance states that the city may collect unpaid utility bills by any lawful means except liens on real estate of a lessor.

Ax said Monday that she was not sure what was meant by “any lawful means” and how the collection process would occur.

She contacted City Attorney Rob Lane and Larry Baer from the legal department of the League of Kansas Municipalities. In their opinion, while the city can say that tenants and landlords have joint liability for bills charged to a rental address, there is little the city can do to force a landlord to accept responsibility.

“According to Mr. Lane and Mr. Baer, we cannot force a landlord to pay a delinquent account, we cannot shut off the landlord’s personal utility, nor can we force a new tenant to pay a previous tenant’s utility bill as a requirement to hook up service,” she said. “As Mr. Lane put it, ‘legal means’ comes down to the landlord voluntarily paying the obligation.”

Ax told the council that all she could do was mail a duplicate late notice to the landlord to make him aware of the delinquency.

“After that, there is nothing more to report,” she said.

In other business:

  • Council members took no action on a bid to paint trim on the city building, on what to do about a trailer of trash left from spring cleanup at a residence with no services, or on a complaint about the color of water in a new aboveground pool.
  • The council heard that requests for quotes on a collapsing Elm St. culvert had gone out to three contractors.
  • Council members learned the city dog pound passed inspection by the Kansas Department of Agriculture.
  • A request by Jim and Gail Myers to build a carport behind a rental property at 308 N. Walnut St. was discussed. Ax will direct them to the planning and zoning committee for a review of the property and construction requirements.
  • Council members tabled decisions on a heating and air conditioning maintenance contract from Denny’s, a yearlong contract for phone service from AT&T, and a contract for equipment support service from Avaya. In each case, the council felt more information was needed.
  • After a report on service and a proposed price increase from Spur Ridge Veterinary Clinic, the council authorized Peabody Police Chief Bruce Burke and Peabody Animal Control Officer Duane Davis to seek cost estimates and a review of animal lodging protocol from additional animal clinics.
  • Mayor Larsen reported that he met July 1 with members of the county appraiser’s office to discuss a “payment under protest” on the Baker Lofts properties.
  • Council member Janice Woodruff requested a 10-minute executive session to discuss personnel. The mayor was included in the session. No action was taken on return to open session.

The next city council meeting will be at 7 p.m. July 28 in the city building.

Last modified July 17, 2014

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