Wichita City Council passes policy to fine landlords for retaliatory evictions

KMUW | By Celia Hack

Some council members said they’ve heard from tenants who faced retaliation after complaining of poor housing conditions.

Wichita’s City Council passed an ordinance Tuesday to fine landlords for retaliating against tenants who complain about housing conditions.

Retaliation can include an eviction or rent increase within six months of a tenant’s complaints to the city’s inspections department, according to the ordinance.

State law makes it technically illegal for landlords to retaliate against tenants for complaining to city inspectors. But there is no agency to enforce the rule.

The policy is based on a similar one Topeka passed last July. Two council members, Brandon Johnson and Mike Hoheisel, said they regularly hear from residents in Wichita experiencing retaliation.

“The majority of people who have shown me their apartments or homes have been evicted,” said Johnson, who has toured apartments with mold and other quality issues. “And it was because they either talked to me or they made the news … ”

The ordinance would allow tenants to file complaints about retaliation with the city. If a municipal court judge finds retaliation took place, the judge could fine the landlord up to $2,500 and give a portion of it to the tenant.

One council member, Jeff Blubaugh, voted against the new policy. He said he’s never heard complaints in his district about retaliation.

“I believe retaliatory evictions are completely wrong. Landlords should never retaliate against somebody,” Blubaugh said.

“But I cannot be supportive of the ordinance because we are not addressing the issue I hear a lot. And that is the property damage that’s done by tenants and houses just torn apart by someone that’s being evicted. And I feel like we need to address both issues.”

Under the new policy, landlords can continue to pursue evictions for nonpayment of rent or other lease violations.

Shawn Land is a Realtor and the president of Rental Owners Incorporated, a local group of landlords. She emphasized that she doesn’t speak on behalf of the entire group. But she doesn’t think the new policy will have a major impact on rental owners who operate legally and fairly.

“For landlords who don’t operate under a slumlord or as a slumlord, I don’t see this being anything that should be a concern for them,” Land said. “That’s my personal opinion on this.”

One tenant who has spoken publicly about the issue, Alvin Mitchell, praised the ordinance. In 2022, he received a notice to leave the rental house he lived in after he called the city’s inspections department.

Mitchell said he’s hopeful the new ordinance will help family and friends who are going through similar circumstances. And he added that passage of the ordinance showed him that it’s worth speaking at City Council and neighborhood association meetings.

“I would recommend that if you got an issue with your house, go to the city authorities, whoever, to let somebody know what’s going on,” Mitchell said.

“You got to stand up and fight and get things changed. Cause it’s possible, and it did happen – the change came.

“If you don’t say nothing, won’t nothing happen.”

This article was republished here with the permission of: KMUW