Planeta Venus summarizes a tenant’s rights and responsibilities as a renter in Sedgwick County.
By Stefania Lugli
Wichita’s Housing and Community Services hosted a town hall last month at Century II, guiding attendees on what legal rights a tenant has and what to expect if they face an eviction.
Nate Johnson, assistant attorney for the city, led the presentation. Also at the front of the room were Steve Minson from Kansas Legal Services and a neighborhood inspector from the department.
“Housing becomes really personal beyond the legal,” Johnson said, introducing the panel. “But understanding the legal might help us know what our rights are, what consequences might be, and what benefits come from certain actions and thus facilitate a better relationship between a landlord and a tenant.”
As a reminder, Planeta Venus is not providing legal advice. We attended and reported this meeting to offer as much information as possible for our audience. An informed reader is an empowered one.
Any questions specific to legal advice should be referred to private attorneys or organizations such as Kansas Legal Services, a legal aid for low-income Kansans.
What tenants’ rights look like in Kansas Law
Johnson started the town hall reviewing two landlord-tenant statutes in state law, the Kansas Residential Landlord and Tenant Act (KRLTA) and the Mobile Home Parks Residential Landlord and Tenant Act.
“What I’m going to focus on here is the eviction process in Sedgwick County,” Johnson said, emphasizing that despite his city role as an assistant attorney, he was not present to speak on behalf of the city.
Johnson explained that evictions are defined in Kansas law but happen at county level.
“Every county has a little bit of discretion, a little bit of flexibility to be able to do what they want to do within the bounds of the law,” he said.
According to state law, there are four kinds of evictions
○ When a landlord attempts to remove the tenant themselves. Illegal in Kansas. It’s a violation of “basic legal principles” according to Johnson.
● Nonpayment of rent
○ When someone is behind on rent, a landlord is obligated to provide a 3 day notice that they must pay or the landlord will seek an eviction and activate the court process.
● Material noncompliance with lease
○ Issues exclusive to nonpayment of rent, such as property damage or a tenant. Landlords can give a 30 day notice for this, but must provide 14 days of notice to correct the issue before termination at 30.
● Termination of tenancy
○ Tenant moves out without an eviction. Usually the tenant provides at least a 30 or 60 day notice, depending on the lease you sign.
Eviction can not occur without a court order.
“Eviction is not just the termination of the tenancy. It’s not just someone being behind on rent. It’s not the start of the court process — it’s not even the trial,” Johnson said. “Eviction cannot occur without an order from the court saying that the landlord has the power to remove the tenant through the Sheriff or a processor. Without that court order, it is not legal in Kansas for landlords to evict.”
What “proper notice” of an eviction looks like
According to Johnson, the biggest issue that comes up in court is an eviction’s proper notice. The Judge has to determine whether notice was properly provided in the eviction case. If it’s not provided, tenants “usually prevail” in the eviction case.
The landlord needs to deliver a written copy of notice to terminate the lease and notice to leave the premises. These two types of notice are usually combined into one. These are not court documents!
A notice to leave the premises must be delivered at least 3 days before an eviction is filed. After the notice period passes, the landlord can file a petition in court. Afterwards the tenant will receive a summons to appear in court.
According to Johnson, tenants need to appear in person, by counsel, or file a written response before the first hearing. If a tenant denies the allegations behind the landlord’s petition, a county trial will be set within 14 days.
“If a tenant does not respond to the summons, it is default judgment for the landlord, even if the tenant touches base with the court after that it is up to the landlord to move forward.”
What to consider when moving into a new lease
Make sure you understand your rental agreement, which can be written or oral in the state of Kansas. What regular payments do you owe as a tenant?
Complete an inventory of your space. It’s not legally required but could be significant. Note damages, wonky appliances, etc. Take pictures and video!
Understand the terms of your security deposit. What does the landlord expect from you, a tenant, before releasing your deposit back to you after your lease is over?
Kansas Legal Services on where habitability responsibilities lie for a landlord vs. a tenant:
The landlord is responsible for providing living conditions, which INCLUDES: running water, plumbing, heat, electricity and other essentials.
As a tenant, you must pay your monthly rent. According to Kansas Legal Services, “This obligation to pay rent is separate and distinct from your landlord’s obligation to provide a livable property. In other words, if you withhold rent because your residence has serious maintenance or utility problems, your landlord can still try to evict you for nonpayment of rent.”
“One of the most basic (rights) is that you have a right to a habitable premise that you’re paying for,” Steve Minson, an attorney with Kansas Legal Services, said during the town hall. “Even if the lease doesn’t say so, your apartment or home you’re renting is supposed to comply with the housing code. At the least, things that affect your health and safety: smoke detectors, windows that open. A furnace that needs work in the wintertime.”
Minson also said that although providing air conditioning isn’t an explicit mandate, any rental home that already comes with an air conditioner needs to be fixed if it breaks.
“I’ve had a case where it’s the hottest days of the year and the AC goes out and the landlord is not fixing it or not seeming to take any significant steps towards getting it fixed. That’s a habitility problem. That’s a breach of the Kansas landlord act,” he said.
If you, your family, guests or pets cause damage to the property, the landlord isn’t responsible to repair the damage. For example: the landlord isn’t at fault if your water shuts off because you were unable to pay for the utility. Another example: If your sewer backs up, the landlord is responsible for maintenance — but if you caused the problem, your landlord can charge you for repairs.
Another piece of advice from Minson: make it a habit to request maintenance in writing.
“If a landlord is being difficult about repairs, you can pursue a 14/30 day (notice),” Minson said.
The Kansas Residential Landlord and Tenant Act gives a tenant the right to eventually break lease if a landlord “continually fails to meet maintenance or contract agreements.” To do so, a tenant must give the landlord a written notice at least 30 days before rent is due.
The law says to be explicit in what repairs or other actions are necessary and that you intend to move out before the next rent due date unless the repairs or actions are taken care of within 14 days of given notice.
“Make these repairs in 14 days. List them out. It’s got to be writing,” Minson said. “It’s not notarized, It’s not a court document. It could be pencil on notebook paper. I’d take a photo of it then get it to the landlord.”
If the problem is not fixed or a “good faith effort” has started within the 14 days, the tenant can terminate the lease.
Other questions on tenant life? Contact Planeta Venus for answers. We are not attorneys and cannot provide legal advice, but we can help guide you to the right place. You can text us by signing up for Subtext here or by emailing our reporter firstname.lastname@example.org.