KANSAS CITY, Mo. — A Kansas City woman finally has cool air in her apartment, two days after 41 Action News first investigated the Ruskin Place Apartments.
Tiyonna Watkins had been living with a broken air-conditioning unit for almost two months. On Wednesday, she contacted 41 Action News for help after she filed numerous complaints with her apartment complex and the Kansas City Health Department.
While Watkins' air is now fixed, other residents tell 41 Action News they are still without air conditioning. Some residents have complained of mold in the bathroom and leaking ceilings.
"What (the apartment management does) is put on a recording. It's 'we're away from my office or away from desk' and it goes all day. They rarely answer the phone," said Gladys Payne, who lives at Ruskin Place.
TEH Realty owns Ruskin Place Apartments in south Kansas City and other units in the metro. 41 Action News has attempted to contact the company numerous times since Wednesday by email, phone and visits to the company's corporate headquarters.
"These types of corporate players are some of the biggest type of exploiters of the reality in which we have no real regulation against landlords in the market," said Tara Raghuvee of KC Tenants, an organization that advocates for affordable and safe housing.
The Kansas City Health Department oversees the Healthy Homes Rental Inspection Program in the city. Accordingly, inspectors with the health department investigate tenant complaints filed with the city.
Once an inspection occurs, the health department issues a timeline for the property owner to bring it into compliance. If the issue remains uncorrected, a re-inspection is completed and a $150 fine is issued. If a third re-inspection occurs and the issue is still uncorrected, the health department can suspend the operating permit, vacate the property or issue an ordinance violation. The punishment for an ordinance violation includes a fine of up to $1,000, imprisonment of up to 180 days or both.
"For a corporate landlord, a $150 fine is nothing. They will just pay it and move on with their lives," Raghauvee said. "The city needs to step up to regulate that activity through things like real estate transfer taxes."
According to the health department, it is illegal for a landlord to retaliate against a tenant because he or she filed a complaint.