A year after the city of Independence implemented its “Rental Ready” program requiring inspections for rental units, city officials say the early returns have been quite positive.

The City Council approved the program in September 2016, and the city began implementing it June 2017 after taking time to educate landlords and tenants and hire six qualified private inspectors.

“We really worked hard to identify the right people for that program,” Lauren Palmer, assistant city manager said during Monday's briefing to the council.

The number of licensed landlords has increased from 2,010 to 2,935, and the number or registered rental units more than doubled from 7,921 to 17,096. Of the rental units added, 56 percent came from already-licensed landlords. Complaints to city officials have been virtually non-existent, they say.

More than 3,000 inspections have been performed in the first year, with more than 90 percent of landlords in compliance. In some cases where a property is noticeably fixed up, Palmer said, surrounding houses in the neighborhood get spruced up.

“Other cities have said it takes them years to get up to 90 percent compliance rate,” Palmer said.

With Rental Ready, units are inspected once every two years by private inspectors contracted by the city, capped at $50 per inspection – and any needed re-inspections – paid to the inspector. Any building with more than four units on a single property that share common walls and/or common floors and ceilings must have 10 percent of the total number of units inspected.

Inspectors check for things such as exposed electrical wires, debris around a water heater or furnace, properly working outlets/switch covers and sanitary drainage system, rodent/insect infestation and animal or human waste – basic human health and safety things, the city has said. Landlords are not able to obtain a business license, and thus rent out units, without passing the inspections.

Any rental unit that has been inspected for any reason within the previous 12 months could be submitted for approval, and housing complexes with federal aid involved would not be part of the program, as they already go through more stringent inspections. Before Rental Reday, interior inspections of rentals were complaint-driven. Exterior inspections are handled by the city's code enforcement workers, mainly on a complaint basis.

The top issues inspectors have encountered, Palmer said, are missing or broken smoke detectors, electrical problems and sanitary sewer problems. Council Member Tom Van Camp, who had been one of the chief advocates for the program, said in numerous of instances inspectors simply helped fix a smoke detector on the spot.

Palmer noted that the city's Rental Ready website has been helpful as well for landlords, tenants and even inspectors, who upload reports through a portal.

“It's been really nice tool that helps with staff efficiency,” she said.

Tara Raghuveer, a Kansas City native working with the Kansas City Eviction Project, said she commends Independence for taking steps in the complex issue of housing justice. In addition to Rental Ready, the city helped push for state legislation requiring LCC's to have a human name attached to them for contact purposes.

“I commonly cite Independence as a leader on this…how to do well in housing,” Raghuveer said. “There are certain policy levers to pull that are beneficial to both the tenants … and the landlord community.”