Supporters, opponents debate healthy homes initiative in Kansas City

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KANSAS CITY, Mo. -- Voters going to the polls next month will be asked whether the city should impose a fee on landlords, designed to make sure the homes they rent are safe.

The proposed $20 per unit permit from the health department would allow health inspectors to conduct random checks, looking inside rental homes for things like mold, chipped lead paint and other conditions that make a home unlivable.

Renters such as Jennifer Gwinner like the idea.

She says it took her landlord about a month to repair a dirty mess in her apartment, after a burst pipe left huge holes in the ceiling above her shower. She believes that many other renters have to live with unhealthy problems for a lot longer than that.

"It was disturbing to me," Gwinner said. "It was right over my shower. Dirt was coming in even if I cleaned the tub. The next morning there would be dirt. I wasn’t going to shower in that. I had to go to Grandview, drive to a friend's home in Grandview every other night to shower."

Supporters of the Healthy Homes initiative claim there are 24,000 unsafe rental homes in Kansas City.  All rental units would be required to get the annual health permit, except those subsidized by the federal department of Housing and Urban Development. HUD units already are regularly inspected.

Some landlords claim the costs of the program will drive up rents.

Opponents are calling Question One an unnecessary rental inspection tax.

"It’s a duplication of city services that already exist," said Henry Lyons, a property owner and landlord. "Neighborhood Preservation has the right to go into a home at a tenant’s request and inspect it and force the landlord, if it requires that, to make the repairs. So that’s a duplication."

Money from the permits would help pay relocation costs for those found to be living in dangerous conditions. And fund a program to help prevent childhood lead poisoning.

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