Family's struggle highlights renters' rights in Kansas City

Posted at 5:05 PM, Jan 08, 2018
and last updated 2018-01-08 18:18:49-05

KANSAS CITY, Mo. — The problems at one Kansas City, Missouri rental home got so bad for one family that they are moving out.

41 Action News reported about Christen Fonteyne’s family and their ongoing struggle to get the power, heat, and water turned back on amid freezing temperatures.

“We’re getting our stuff out. I mean — I’m not going to be able to do this,” Fonteyne said on Monday.

Her family, including three small boys, have been staying at a hotel since New Year’s Eve, paying out of pocket.

“We had to go into survival mode with three kids,” Fonteyne said.

Fonteyne says their landlord ignored their multiple complaints. 

She said the family had been huddling upstairs with space heaters to keep warm. The meter box eventually blew.

The landlord, who will not go on camera, told 41 Action News she hired an electrician to fix the meter box on Saturday.  A KCP&L inspector is set to go to the house near 57th & Mersington Avenue on Tuesday.

“I mean — you took long enough. My family still had to uproot everything,” Fonteyne said.

Now, the house also has a flooded basement from burst pipes.

Fonteyne said pipes have been leaking all winter. Icicles even formed inside. Fonteyne said the landlord knew about a leaky hole in the ceiling but told them to repair it themselves and they would be reimbursed.

“Anytime a renter encounters a situation like this, first thing they need to do is call 311 and open a case,” John Baccala said, a KCMO spokesperson.

Having a paper trail is important for a tenant. If you have a city notice stating that our home violates city code, you could have the right to withhold rent until the landlord fixes it, or repair the problem yourself and deduct it from the rent.

Baccala said the code enforcement division encounters a lot of these situations between tenants and landlords, but knowing the details of your lease agreement could prevent you from calling 311 in the first place.

A lease should always state which types of repairs are a landlord’s responsibility.

According to Missouri law, if a landlord isn’t fixing major issues, like a broken furnace, the tenant must give the landlord written notice and two week’s time to take care of it.  If that doesn't happen, the tenant could withhold rent or repair and deduct.

“We should have acted a little sooner and figured out what our rights are. You should definitely know that when you’re renting a home,” Fonteyne said.

Baccala said in the case of a home not having power, water, or heat, an inspector would get to it fairly quickly.  

“We don’t know what we don’t know. We have more than 13,000 cases citywide, so as soon as they open a case, then we can act,” Baccala said.

The family started a Gofundme account and said they have just about enough money to move into another home.

“I’m just glad. You guys got the word out. People saw how ridiculous this was, and I feel like, 'Wow, okay, people do care,'” Fonteyne said.