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Student housing panel to report findings Tuesday

The Student Housing Task Force that spent two years examining problems associated with student rental housing, primarily in neighborhoods near the University of Kentucky, will report its findings to the Planning Committee of the Urban County Council on Tuesday.

The 17-member task force, which includes landlords, neighbors and council members, looked at an array of issues including whether current laws regarding trash, parking, poorly maintained property and safety issues are adequate.

The report makes more than a dozen recommendations, including better enforcement of existing laws.

"We found laws already on the books dealing with some of these problems are not being enforced for lack of funding," said Mike Meuser, task force chairman and a resident of the Aylesford neighborhood on the north side of campus.

For example, code enforcement, the primary enforcer of issues dealing with filth and illegal parking, is hampered by a lack of staff and not enough money in its abatement fund to correct problems.

If a back yard is trashed and the property owner is not responsive to notices or fines, code enforcement can "hire a contractor to come in, clean up the mess," Meuser said. "The city pays the bill then puts a lien on the property to pay for that abatement."

Code enforcement had $100,000 in its 2007 budget for cleaning up property violations. The money was spent by April. Yet the department collected more than $180,000 in abatement fines that year that went back into the city's general fund.

"If the money collected is to correct property violations, why in the world wouldn't you let them keep some of that abatement money to get through the year," Meuser said. "That would help immediately."

Also recommended were regular neighborhood "sweeps" by code enforcement and increasing maximum fines for recalcitrant property owners.

A rental licensing ordinance was another recommendation. This would allow building inspection, code enforcement and the fire department to inspect the interior of rental properties. State law requires each bedroom have a smoke detector and a window large enough for a fireman to enter and rescue a person.

Building inspectors have no legal power to enter a building without permission of the landlord or tenants, said Dewey Crowe, director of building inspection.

The Planning Committee meets at 1 p.m. Tuesday in council chambers of the Government Center, 200 East Main Street. The meeting is open to the public.