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Benefits of 'bill of rights' become clearer for tenants

Tenant Bill of Rights button.jpg
Posted at 5:11 PM, Dec 13, 2019
and last updated 2019-12-13 20:38:55-05

KANSAS CITY, Mo. — Half of Kansas City, Missouri is made up of renters. Many times renters don't have a place to turn when issues come up with management.

The newly-passed renters' bill of rights establishes a baseline that will go into effect this summer.

The KC Tenants group wrote it for people like "Quadhafi," who is homeless.

"I've been over this whole city looking for a safe place for people like me where you don't have to be dehumanized, and there are no places for people who want to do better," Quadhafi said.

Quadhafi's real name is James Shelby. He served 22 years in prison and since getting out in August, has been scraping to get by.

His car is his home right now, but it overheats and he doesn't have the money to fix it. Everything he owns is in his car. He tries to find a safe place to park every night to sleep.

"Most of the places that prisoners like me get to live in are sleazy, slimy, gut-bucket, good-for-nothing places that only lead back to crime and selling drugs, and I refuse to accept that as my reality. I can't do it," Quadhafi said.

He says trying to function in a society that rejects him is the reason he joined the KC Tenants group, which just lobbied for passage of a monumental tenants rights package on Thursday.

Mayor Quinton Lucas, who supported the proposal, signed the resolution into action Friday.

KC Tenants hopes renters will start to feel the impact as early as June.

The package guarantees several major protections for tenants:

  • Knowing about any past issues in their unit
  • Getting accurate estimates on utility costs
  • Requiring 24-hour notice or consent before a landlord enters their unit
  • Requiring their unit has running water and heat

A landlord can still look at a tenant's source of income, rental history, and criminal backgrounds, but cannot refuse to rent to the person without considering any additional information the tenant has.

Every landlord is required to give a copy of the bill of rights to every tenant.

"When you have that sheet of paper in front of you, you know your rights," KC Tenants leader Jenay Manley said. "That's power in and of itself, and from there, you know where to go."

The group hopes to establish a Division of the Tenant Advocate by June.

They originally pushed for a right to an attorney and further limiting landlords ability to discriminate on source of income, but had to leave those two pieces out of the proposal.

As it stands, a landlord doesn't have to accept housing vouchers, which Manley says contradicts what they're trying to do.

"We're going to come back for them. We're going to come back for right to counsel because evictions are still happening at a huge rate, and without someone to help us fight those battles that's going to keep happening," Manley said.

Last year, 34 evictions were filed in Jackson County every day. KC Tenants says many evictions are preventable, but people struggle with expensive rent and substandard housing. This package will give tenants more of a right to bargain and organize.

"So that people don't have to have so much flooding that they're growing mushrooms in their living room. And these are things that I saw. It's not a guess. It's not, 'Well is this really happening?' We have photos. It's heartbreaking," Tiana Caldwell, another leader with KC Tenants, said.

Quadhafi says most ex-prisoners like him want to live productive, reformed lives, but get turned away before they have a chance. That's why he says his work with KC Tenants is not through yet.

"It shows me that the little man can win, can get a word in edgewise, or get something done," Quadhafi said.

The group will work with the city budgeting office this winter to find ways to fund the $1 million package.