TOPEKA — James Howell knows of nuisance properties outside city limits in Sedgwick County that are beyond reach of existing state law.
Howell, a member of the Sedgwick County Commission, urged a Kansas Senate committee Thursday to adopt a bill granting the county authority to order unsafe properties cleaned up and require the property owners to pay the cost.
“It is my belief that a property owner’s right to enjoy their property should not endanger their neighbors’ health, safety or enjoyment of their own property,” he said.
Before senators objected to potential impact of such a law on farmers, Howell confirmed buildings and equipment with agricultural applications would be exempt from Senate Bill 423. That tired 1944 John Deere B tractor and the vintage McCormick-Deering thresher combine behind the barn won’t have to go.
“Sedgwick County recognizes the importance of agriculture and would not utilize any authority granted by this bill to impact agricultural operations,” he said.
In the past, attempts to grant all 105 counties this type of leverage failed to move through the Kansas Legislature. The Senate Ethics, Elections and Local Government Committee is considering this bill.
Howell said the five Sedgwick County commissioners supported the “narrowly focused” proposal to deal with safety and health challenges in unincorporated areas of the county where an estimated 40,000 people live.
The commissioners concluded issuing citations for code violations and seeking court orders for property owners to address nuisance conditions on their own was inadequate, he said.
Chris Labrum, director of the Wichita-Sedgwick County Metropolitan Area Building and Construction Department, said many property owners complied with requests to eliminate nuisance conditions. Others are unwilling or unable to perform the work, he said.
He said the proposed law wouldn’t be used by the county on run-of-the-mill offenses. For example, he said, it could be deployed to bring down a half-burned, structurally unstable house.
“Nobody would want to live next to one of these severe nuisance properties,” Labrum said. “It is especially concerning that these types of buildings can become unsafe attractive nuisances for children.”