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Tenants Plagued By Mold, Water Leaks And 'Large Critters' Gain Class Action Status To Sue Landlord

crestwood_tenants.jpg
Courtesy Wilson Vance
Tenants of Crestwood Apartments, which is owned by T.E.H. Realty, at a December hearing in Wyandotte County about conditions at the apartment building.

Tenants of a landlord notorious for the festering conditions of its apartment units have won the right to sue  as a class.

Complaints by tenants of Ruskin Place Apartments, a 169-unit complex in south Kansas City, ranged from “vast amounts of water” leaking through windows, mold and sagging floors to inadequate heat, unsecured doors and “large critters” roaming through the units.

In October, three of the tenants sued KM-T.E.H. Realty 8 LLC on behalf of themselves and Ruskin Place’s other tenants. On Thursday, Jackson County Circuit Judge Joel Fahnestock granted them class action status.

In certifying the tenants as a class, Fahnestock found that their lawsuit met the requirements of a class action – namely that it has common questions of law and fact, numerous plaintiffs and plaintiffs with similar claims.

T.E.H., which was founded in Israel in 2006, has been the subject of numerous complaints by tenants at other apartment complexes it owns in and around Kansas City and St. Louis.

A representative of the company hung up after a reporter called seeking comment.

On Monday, U.S. Sen. Josh Hawley (R-Mo.) introduced legislation aimed at cracking down on landlords who fail to uphold basic living standards. 

Hawley's Bad Landlord Database Act would require the Department of Housing and Urban Development to create a comprehensive database of landlords whose contracts have been terminated because they violated Housing Assistance Payments contracts. The proposed legislation would also require local public housing authorities to report bad landlords to HUD. 

“Bad landlords have abused our housing system for too long and it's happening right here in Missouri,” Hawley said in a statement.  “They have taken advantage of tenants, failed to provide them the most basic living standards, forced them to live in squalor — all while dmenading rent and bills continue to be paid. And because their properties span jurisidictions, they have gotten away with it. It's time we hold these scumbag landlords accountable.”

T.E.H. has been a particularly egregious offender. In addition to the pending case by Ruskin Place tenants, a Wyandotte County judge in December appointed a receiver to manage T.E.H.’s Crestwood Apartments, a 124-unit complex at 57th Street and Parallel Parkway. The move came after mortgage giant Fannie Mae sought to foreclose on the property, which tenants complained was infested with roaches and mold. Fannie Mae claimed T.E.H. had defaulted on a $3 million loan.  

In a court filing, a tenant said one apartment unit “was subject to such persistent flooding that mushrooms began growing within, the complex is generally infested by cockroaches, mice, and bedbugs, mold infests any number of apartments (with various tenants catching pneumonia and/or being hospitalized), and that management has frequently turned over and does not timely respond to repair requests, if at all.”

Last month, the judge in the Crestwood case approved the sale of the building to La Hacienda Apartments LLC and its owner, Andrea Carter. Bryce Bell, a lawyer who represented several Crestwood tenants, said T.E.H. has agreed to stop collecting back rent from them.

Meanwhile, the St. Louis Post Dispatch reported in November that spot checks by one of its reporters showed some properties owned by T.E.H. in St. Louis appear to have been abandoned by maintenance and office personnel. 

The Missouri attorney general’s office has received dozens of complaints about conditions at T.E.H.’s apartments in Kansas City and St. Louis and has been trying to resolve them. The complaints have ranged from heat and hot water issues to unreturned security deposits.

Chris Nuelle, a spokesman for the attorney general’s office, said in an email that the office would continue to mediate complaints as best it could.

“We feel that at this point, mediating consumer complaints, obtaining refunds, and resolving issues for consumers is the best way to move forward,” he said.   

In addition to its legal troubles here, T.E.H. has run into legal troubles in Israel. Last month, an Israeli court entered a $2.59 million judgment against the company and in favor of an individual named Emanuel Kronitz, who apparently loaned money to T.E.H. The judgment has been registered in Jackson County, where lawyers for Kronitz are trying to collect the money.

Kronitz’s Kansas City lawyer did not return a phone call.

This story was updated on Monday, March 2, with news that Sen. Josh Hawley is proposing legislation to crack down on bad landlords. 

Dan Margolies is a senior reporter and editor at KCUR. You can reach him on Twitter @DanMargolies.

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