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Rats and black mold: Kansas City tenants sue Section 8 apartments for 'unbearable' neglect

A white and blue, wood-framed apartment complex shows boarded up windows and doors with notices on them.
Carlos Moreno
KCUR 89.3
Tenants say Stonegate Meadows was misleading, advertising manicured and intact buildings. But in reality, many units are boarded up and the lawsuit alleges most are uninhabitable.

Seven plaintiffs have joined a class action lawsuit against Stonegate Meadows, a low-income apartment complex on East 42nd Street, alleging that the property owners refused to address "uninhabitable conditions" — including problems with black mold, rodent infestations and sewage backup.

When Breonna Mondaine moved into Stonegate Meadows — a 366-unit low-income apartment complex on East 42nd Street near Arrowhead Stadium — in March 2022, she hoped for safe and stable housing. She moved in with her two young children, a 1-year-old and 6-year-old.

Instead, the Stonegate Meadows apartment was full of mold and infested with mice. They dealt with persistent water leaks, plumbing and sewage issues and a faulty HVAC system that left the family without air during the summer heat.

“It actually became a mental battle because we weren't comfortable in our home and I had to try to deal with it the best way that I could,” Mondaine said. “During the summer months is when it really became severe because we were unable to be comfortable as far as having air. It was just unbearable and very frustrating to deal with.”

Mondaine and six other named plaintiffs have joined a class-action lawsuit against Stonegate Meadows Apartments LLC and Elite Management Group LLC, the current owner and property manager. The lawsuit was filed April 7 in the Jackson County Circuit Court.

Because management has changed hands many times in the past years, the group is also suing four other previous owners and managers.

Cockroaches swarm a wall and ceiling in the Stonegate apartment complex
Heartland Center for Jobs and Freedom
Cockroaches infest the Stonegate Meadows apartment complex. A class action lawsuit alleges the property managers refused to address the issue.

The group is demanding that Stonegate Meadows fix the property and pay current and former tenants damages for the violations of their tenant and consumer rights.

According to the lawsuit, Mondaine repeatedly made requests to the management company at Stonegate to address the issues, to no avail. Instead, she had to throw out furniture infested with mold and purchase traps and other pest control supplies out of pocket to deal with the mice.

To escape the air conditioning problems, Mondaine’s children had to stay with family for a time.

“I really cried almost every day because there wasn't nothing I could do,” Mondaine says. “I financially didn't have the money to just up and leave and we didn't have anywhere to go. We were like borderline homeless.”

The Heartland Center for Jobs and Freedom is representing the tenants in the suit. This is the first class action lawsuit that the center is representing through its Safe Homes for All program, which helps tenants bring cases against their landlords for improved housing conditions.

John Bonacorsi, a tenants’ rights attorney for the firm, says the case is a last resort after years of residents trying to get the property managers and owners to fix the pervasive issues.

“Many tenants are forced to live in uninhabitable conditions, which is obviously not right,” Bonacorsi says. “But the severity of the problem and the degree that we're seeing of Stonegate is deeply concerning. Tenants have had enough. They've been begging and pleading for years and so they're standing up and joining together to assert their rights now.”

Last year, a fire at one of the buildings injured 15 people. The entire building has remained boarded up since. The on-site office is also boarded up because of a different fire.

The lawsuit alleges that many of the units are infested with roaches, rodents and other pests. There have been persistent plumbing and structural problems resulting in leaks, flooding, and raw sewage. Black mold has infested many of the units and caused residents severe health issues. And, like in Mondaine’s case, HVAC issues caused a lack of heat in the winter and air in the summer.

Stonegate Meadows Apartments LLC could not be reached for comment. The company is based in Delaware and registered with a Columbia, Missouri, agent in 2019. Elite Management Group LLC, based in Springfield, Missouri, could also not be reached for comment.

Years of complaints and health violations

The dire living conditions at Stonegate Meadows have been well documented. Residents sent a letter to the owner and management group in January demanding Stonegate fix and properly maintain the complex; tenants say that nobody responded.

In February, U.S. Rep. Emanuel Cleaver II sent a letter to the property urging they remedy the situation.

Residents have filed thousands of complaints against the complex since 2019. In that time, the Kansas City Healthy Homes Rental Inspection Program has observed nearly 1,000 violations. The Kansas City Health Department suspended Stonegate’s rental permit twice due to failed re-inspections and non-compliance from management and ownership.

Mondaine eventually moved out of the complex because, after inspecting her home, the Housing Authority of Kansas City stopped paying its portion of her rent due to unsafe living conditions. Fortunately, Mondaine was able to find alternate housing before losing her Section 8 voucher.

According to the lawsuit, Stonegate did not return Mondaine’s security deposit or provide her notice of an inspection or an itemized list of alleged damages, as required by state law.

Still, Mondaine says her family can finally breathe in their new home in South Kansas City.

“We can actually wake up and enjoy our home,” Mondaine says. “We don't have to deal with rodents running around or our air not working or vandalism. We can be free.”

A collapsed ceiling falls on furniture in an apartment in the Stonegate Meadows apartment complex.
Heartland Center for Jobs and Freedom
A water leak caused a full ceiling collapse in the Stonegate Meadows apartment complex. The lawsuit alleges that the collapse cause massive flooding and ruined the tenants furniture.

Similar to Mondaine, the issues at Stonegate were a matter of life and death for Nathaniel Johnson. A 64-year-old disabled Air Force veteran, Johnson has depended on housing vouchers for nearly a decade.

He moved into the complex in March 2019 because of its proximity to the Honor VA Clinic, where he receives treatment.

Soon after, issues began to arise. The lawsuit says that Johnson went days with no heat or water; his shower wall caved in and left a hole in the wall. His bathtub wasn’t properly sealed and allowed even more water and mold into the walls. Johnson’s ceiling was damaged, he could not use the washing machine for more than a month, and he could smell sewage coming from the basement.

Johnson repeatedly told Stonegate Meadows management about the issues in his home, but says trying to get them to fix the issues was “like getting your teeth pulled with no pain medication.”

“It was a headache,” Johnson told KCUR. “I had to call and say something was wrong (and the office would say) ‘We'll take the notes and give it to the maintenance man.’ Then two weeks go by, three weeks go by, I’d call back with the same issue.”

The Housing Authority of Kansas City conducted inspections of Johnson’s unit and repeatedly notified Stonegate of issues it was required to fix. When the complex didn’t fix those issues, the Housing Authority stopped making the Section 8 payments on Johnson’s behalf.

Johnson, who was not notified of the change, continued to pay his portion of his rent. But in April 2022, Johnson faced eviction when Stonegate sued him for failure to pay. The Heartland Center for Jobs and Freedom represented him in that case

To avoid eviction, Johnson moved to Independence, Missouri, with another former Stonegate resident, but lost his housing voucher in the process.

“I was just shocked and appalled,” Johnson says. “‘Cause I didn't know where this came from. I knew nothing about my Section 8 or nothing. I was like, ‘What? How? I've never been evicted before.’ It was devastating. I have to pay extreme rent now just to keep a roof over our head.”

Like in Mondaine’s case, Stonegate did not return Johnson’s security deposit or provide him with a reason why they withheld the money, the lawsuit says.

‘They need to make things right’

Bonacorsi says most of the seven named tenants no longer live at Stonegate because they were forced to move during the time the Heartland Center worked with them.

Some left because the Housing Authority stopped paying for their voucher due to unsafe conditions. Others were sued by Stonegate in eviction court, despite the allegations that the complex is not providing safe or secure housing.

Like Johnson, Bonacorsi says many of the displaced tenants had to leave Kansas City proper, because they couldn’t find another place that they could afford or that would accept their voucher.

Stonegate Meadows participates in the federal Low-Income Housing Tax Credit (LIHTC) program, which subsidizes the construction and rehabilitation of affordable housing. The complex is also the third largest provider of LIHTC housing in Kansas City and the fourth largest in Jackson County.

A white shower has a square hole above the faucet. In other places, the tile is peeling off.
Heartland Center for Jobs and Freedom.
The showers in multiple units either collapsed or had holes in the walls, rendering them unusable. The class action lawsuit is demanding the property owners and managers fix the complex and pay tenants damages.

The owners and managers of the complex also received COVID-19 relief funds for 10 or more units, the suit alleges, including units where tenants live in uninhabitable conditions.

“At the same time as tenants are living there, trying to make the best of the situation, Stonegate is plastering their doors with rent demands and eviction notices when their complaints are consistently falling on deaf ears,” Bonacorsi says.

“It's extremely concerning no matter what kind of status the property is, but it's particularly so when this is supposed to be low-income, affordable housing for some of the most vulnerable tenants who live in our communities.”

The Heartland Center for Jobs and Freedom has demanded a jury trial for the case.

“I think we're very optimistic because there are so many tenants who are tired of the conditions that they've had to deal with, and who are not afraid of sharing their stories and sharing their experiences,” Bonacorsi says. “They’re banding together, supporting each other and coming together to fight, not only on behalf of themselves and their families but as tenants and neighbors who've lived in this community and struggled in this community together.”

Mondaine says she’s nervous about coming forward in the lawsuit, but believes it’s the right thing to do.

Even though she feels secure in her new home, she wants Stonegate to repair the physical units and address the physical and mental turmoil it put her through.

“Right is right and wrong is wrong,” Mondaine says. “I do believe that they need to make things right because this is completely wrong and I took a total loss. I feel like they lost some, but I took a complete loss and it has caused my family to be financially burdened. Financially, mentally, physically, everything was just in limbo.”

When news breaks, it can be easy to rely on officials and people in power to get information fast. As KCUR’s general assignment and breaking news reporter, I want to bring you the human faces of the day’s biggest stories. Whether it’s a local shop owner or a worker on the picket line, I want to give you the stories of the real people who are driving change in the Kansas City area. Email me at savannahhawley@kcur.org or follow me on Twitter @savannahhawley.
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