There are more than 22,700 registered rental properties in the city of Columbia. Multiple properties are unregistered and the Office of Neighborhood Services wants to know exactly how many.
In last week's city council meeting, members approved an amnesty period for landlords to register their properties without being prosecuted.
"Hopefully with the amnesty period we can increase voluntary compliance and raise awareness of this issue," Manager of Neighborhood Services Leigh Britt said. "We want to make sure all rental property is in compliance and meets our code."
The rental registry amnesty program will begin Oct. 1 and continue through Nov. 15. Landlords who register early will not be prosecuted, Britt said. When the amnesty period ends, unregistered property owners will again risk fines and jail time.
"The pending cases on unlawful rentals will continue," Britt said. "We are not going to drop any charges."
Finding unlawful rentals can be a challenge, Britt said. City officials find unregistered properties by checking newspaper advertisements or for rent signs.
"Sometimes a tenant calls and will let us know about a property that is not in compliance," Britt said. "We also look at utility or ownership information to discover if property is registered."
Registration, required by the city's Rental Unit Conservation Law, also insures tenants have a safe place to live.
"This law is in place to make sure that rental property is safe and in good repair for those people who live in rental property," Britt said. "It makes sure all rental property is managed under the same rules. Tenants have a right to live in a place that is up to code."
To register, property owners pay a $35 application fee and a $7 inspection fee per unit, Britt said. The Certificate of Compliance is valid for three years.
The city government can also abuse apartment registration fees, said Christine Lee, President of Premier Residential Management and member of the Apartment Association of Kansas City.
"If (registration) is done fairly and inexpensively it tends to weed out the bad property owners who are not taking care of their property," Lee said. "But when it is used as a money grab for the government agencies that are not making their budgets and trying to come up with additional cash for the general funds, then I don't agree with it."
Bonnie Fischer, a member of the Columbia Apartment Association and landlord of an apartment community, believes the registration and fees are fair expectations for apartment owners.
"Some landlords may not register because it's too costly but I think (the fees) are reasonable," Fischer said. "As a landlord, (the fees) are just one of those things you have to put in your budget."