KC ordinance barring landlords from relying on financial, criminal, eviction history could make housing less affordable, available

A proposed ordinance that would prohibit Kansas City landlords from “discrimination” against renters on the basis of credit worthiness, past evictions, criminal convictions or even source of income could actually make housing less affordable and less available, experts say.

“It’s unnecessary. It’s not going to help anybody. But it is going to hurt people,” says David Stokes, director of municipal policy at The Show-Me Institute free-market institute. “And it is a total intrusion of local government into the business of being a landlord in a way that they have no right to do – and no need to do.”

In a statement issued by far-left group KC Tenants, Mayor Quinton Lucas says the ordinance, to be taken up Dec. 12 by the city council’s Special Committee for Legal Review he chairs, would ban “source of income discrimination,” which “is very basic commonsense.”

“It says very simply that you cannot be discriminated against when you are renting in Kansas City.”

Yet it disallows landlords from taking into account almost everything they take into account when renting out houses and apartments.

“I mean, what are landlords supposed to rely on otherwise?” asks Stokes. “You’re just basically telling them that they have to accept anybody who applies, no matter if they don’t have any money, if they have terrible credit, if they’ve been evicted all over the place. Anybody they refuse now is going to be able to sue and file a complaint. And perhaps that’s what some of the people sponsoring this bill want.”

Stokes said Kansas City would be one of just a handful of cities in Missouri hamstringing landlords thusly, the first outside of the St. Louis area.

“I think it’s a terrible proposal,” he said. “It’s completely unnecessary. By every measure, housing is affordable in Kansas City. If Kansas City wants to make housing more affordable, then they can reduce zoning in certain areas, particularly near transit, to allow for more multi-unit developments. That’s a great way to increase supply and lower the cost of housing for people – even though by every measure housing in Kansas City is affordable.  

“But to move forward with this and sort of just put a stranglehold on landlords is a terrible idea. Landlords already have enough rules and onerous regulations and requirements to deal with, some of which are perfectly legitimate. But this one is not. I think it would be a terrible bill for Kansas City.

“It hasn’t made anything better in St. Louis. It’s not going to make anything better in Kansas City. It’s just going to make it harder to operate successfully as a small landlord in the city, and perhaps that’s the goal.”

The ordinance would do no less than kill the rental market in Kansas City, warns Stacey Johnson-Cosby, president of the Kansas City Regional Housing Alliance.

“This is forcing us to not screen our tenants like any other normal business – like any bank, a mortgage company, auto loan,” she told The Heartlander. “Of course if you’re a creditor, you’re going to screen your customer to make sure they’re going to be a good fit. And they think they’re going to take that from us? I will leave the market before I am forced to do that. 

“That’s how it’s going to kill the market.”

Fact is, Johnson-Cosby and her husband did leave the KC rental market, after the council took up a tenants’ bill of rights in 2019 – which originally had similar provisions to this ordinance before a backlash led to them being stripped out.

“As a result of [the 2019 law] my husband and I sold 13 of our units here in Kansas City – directly as a result of that. The night that it passed out of committee we looked at each other and we said we’re out.”

And if landlords thought the 2019 law was bad, this proposed new one is worse, she says – noting that even government housing agencies vet renters.

“And they make sure that the person’s credit worthy, they don’t have any eviction history or criminal history. The government, the federal government, does that. So, you’re telling me, City Council and KC Tenants, you’re telling me that I can’t do it with my own asset that I paid for? 

“Since we’re lenders, we’re creditors, that the city thinks that we’re going to not vet or qualify our clients like all the other creditors get to do is outrageous. Not gonna happen. Just not gonna happen.”

It’s renters that lost out in Johnson-Cosby’s divestment in Kansas City, and when other local landlords do the same. Often, local property owners are replaced by impersonal, less-responsive big corporations headquartered in other states – which may only end up raising the rent.

“Our tenants were formerly homeless veterans, other Section 8 voucher holders and people that could only afford $600 a month,” she says. “And that was under value; we should have been getting more for our units, but we chose to keep our rents low. By [the city council] putting [the 2019 law] in place, we decided that we wanted to leave the market. We didn’t want to do business in Kansas City, and we sold those units and we bought units in another city that was more welcoming to us.”

With the government controlling whom landlords can rent to and how little they can be vetted, it’s like a government taking of private property, she says.

“This is our livelihood. This is a business for us. It’s our retirement. We don’t have children, but we have nieces and nephews. This is their generational wealth. And if you think the 13 people on that council and KC Tenants are going to stop me from protecting my asset and passing it along, that’s wrong. I’m going to do it. Just like any other businessperson, we’re going to do what we have to to protect our assets.  

“This is our future. It’s not something to be played with. And they’re playing with it as if it’s play money. No, this is real. We’ve worked for the money to buy our real estate, and we’re not going to lose it just because we have to put somebody in our property that’s not qualified, that will not pay their bills and that will get evicted – and then we’re going to have to incur the cost to do all that. We’ve been through that already and we’re not going through it again. We’re just not.

“There’s no way that a government and the socialist tenant group will tell me that I have to run my business into the ground.

“All of us are business people. We’re fairly intelligent. I know I wouldn’t take someone that presents themselves to me with a 300 credit score that’s been evicted 10 times, that has a violent criminal record. There’s no way that I’m going to say, ‘OK, I’ll put you into this house in this lovely neighborhood.’ It’s not going to happen.”

At one point, Johnson-Cosby notes, Kansas City allocated $2.5 million to help those facing eviction – but not by paying their rent: instead, by getting them attorneys to fight their evictions. It was a losing proposition and a waste of money, she says.

Attorneys, “no matter how good they are, cannot stop any eviction for nonpayment of rent,” she says. The only thing that does, she argues, is paying the rent.

Both Stokes and Johnson-Cosby said the KC Tenants proposal is akin to forcing restaurants to accept diners regardless of their ability to pay.

“There’s really no difference there,” says Stokes, “to say you come into my restaurant, eat the food, oh, you can’t pay, well, you still get to eat our food. We can’t refuse you.”

“And food is more important than housing,” Johnson-Cosby adds. “They going to go to restaurants next?”

What can be done to stop the ordinance? “I would hope that the same groups that opposed it a few years ago will come back up because it’s bad policy. It’s just really bad public policy for Kansas City,” Stokes says.

Indeed, landlords in the area are mobilizing to tell their story to city council members – and to offer alternative solutions.

Johnson-Cosby says she and other housing providers want to house people. That’s the whole point. So why should Kansas City disincentivize it?

“We’re in business to house people. And so for them to think that we don’t want to house people is crazy. We got into this business for a reason. We want to house people. The way you end homelessness is you provide housing for them. That’s what we do.”

Johnson-Cosby points to Johnson County – seen as a bastion of the well-to-do, but which actually has an aggressive affordable housing approach that incentivizes, rather than forces, property owners to rent their properties. She says the county — after actually surveying landlords — has drastically cut red tape for Section 8 renters, offered bonuses for landlords, and even offered them a property damage reimbursement fund.

Johnson-Cosby says the pilot program that began in January was so popular it ran out of money last month, well before its June 2024 end date – in the process housing 80 renters and adding more than 20 property owners to the mix.

“They’re not hitting us on the head with a hammer like Kansas City,” Johnson-Cosby says, adding she hopes Kansas City will adopt a similar collaborative approach.

“But when you get a group of tenants who own nothing, who can sit around and dream of ways to put me out of business – when you get them creating policy, you’re going to get what Kansas City got, which is very different than what Johnson County got when they talked to the landlords,” she says.

“I want to be encouraged because I think that this [Johnson County] program, this incentive program, is a better way to go and it excites me that we can actually find a way to house people with vouchers on the long waiting list. That’s exciting to me. I’m encouraged that they will use logic and common sense to say, hey, there’s a better way. All we heard about before was what the radical tenant socialist group came up with. And now we’re hearing what the actual industry experts have come up with. 

“I’m encouraged and hopeful that common sense and logic will prevail. I’ll know more, I think, after the next couple of days, but we’ll see.”


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