For years, a Kansas City apartment complex stuck tenants with mold, pests and collapsed ceilings
Stonegate Meadows offers affordable units to low-income families and accepts Section 8 housing vouchers. But city records and a lawsuit show how Stonegate has allowed tenants to live in squalor for years.
Located in the shadows of Kansas City’s two premier sports stadiums, Stonegate Meadows’ 366 apartments are clustered in tall, white, rectangular wood buildings that line East 42nd Street.
Some windows are boarded up. One building stands completely empty after a fire last year.
Joanna Watson began living at Stonegate in 2009. She had high hopes back then.
“When I moved here, it was beautiful,” she said. “The pool stayed open, everybody got along, the crime rate was down.”
But conditions started deteriorating. Mold started growing in her shower within her first year at Stonegate.
“My shower in my back bedroom had mold in it real bad, to where I couldn't use the shower at all,” Watson said. “Sometimes under the sink it would flood because the pipes were so old. They would drip and drip and drip until one day they bust.”
City records and a new lawsuit spell out hundreds of similar stories at Stonegate Meadows over the last five years — mold, roaches, water problems and structural issues that made life a nightmare for many tenants.
A group of former tenants filed a class-action lawsuit against Stonegate Meadows Apartments LLC and Elite Management LLC, the current property manager and owner, alleging their conduct and neglect forces tenants to live in squalor.
Stonegate Meadows did not respond to a request for comment.
The lawsuit alleges that since Stonegate LLC purchased the property in 2019, they have “failed to adequately invest in the property, provide sufficient maintenance, fulfill their promises and obligations to their tenants, and comply with local, state, and federal law.”
Stonegate is home to predominantly low-income tenants, many of whom are Black and immigrants. For many, Stonegate offered affordable housing in a city short on units for low-income families. Stonegate is one of relatively few properties in Kansas City to accept Section 8 housing vouchers. The property also receives federal low-income housing tax credits, which covers part of the cost for the owners to offer affordable units.
According to the lawsuit, Stonegate is the third-largest provider of affordable housing that receives low-income housing tax credits in Kansas City.
“They're collecting rent, they're getting all these automatic payments from the housing authority for people's vouchers, and they're clearly just not investing this money back in the property,” said John Bonacorsi, an attorney with the Heartland Center for Jobs and Freedom representing the tenants.
Pests, mold, no hot water or air conditioning
Records from the city’s Healthy Homes Rental Inspection Program show Stonegate has kept tenants in apartments infested with rodents and blanketed with mold.
Kansas City’s Healthy Homes program was born out of an initiative petition that voters approved in August 2018. Housed in the city’s Health Department, the program provides health and safety standards for rental properties. All landlords are required to register their properties with the Healthy Homes program.
They must follow certain rules to ensure a safe and healthy environment for tenants — they’re responsible for making sure the property is free of pests and water leaks and has adequate heat.
Tenants can report problems or violations by filing complaints with the Healthy Homes program.
According to 311 hotline records, tenants have filed 204 complaints against Stonegate Meadows since 2021 — 193 of which were listed as Healthy Homes complaints and 11 as health code violations. Of those 204, 173 were marked resolved by the city.
According to the class action lawsuit, the Kansas City Health Department has conducted more than 300 inspections since 2019 and identified nearly 1,000 ordinance violations.
Copies of Healthy Homes complaints obtained by KCUR paint a picture of the myriad problems Stonegate tenants have endured:
“When it rains there is multiple leaks in the unit.” “Roach infestation.” “Shower is coming apart, hole in shower, mold everywhere, vent clogged and non functioning.” “Apartment floods every night.” “No A/C for months, mice infestation, mold behind washer and dryer.” “Been without air for more than a month.” “Issues with something inside the apartment that is causing illness. Refrigerator has not worked since moving in two months ago.” “No hot water.”
An inspection document from June 2021 shows city inspectors found no violations during a walkthrough of a tenant’s apartment. The tenant complained they had no handicap ramp and there was standing water in the basement.
“People are having serious issues with HVAC systems, so they lack heat in the cold winter months. They're lacking AC in the summer,” Bonacorsi said. “Pipes are freezing, pipes are bursting, people are without water. The list goes on and on. But what's particularly concerning is the severity of the issues.”
The health department conducts inspections of rental properties based on Healthy Homes complaints. The department can also conduct routine annual inspections or require inspections of a property with repeated violations.
If a landlord does not fix the problems after three re-inspections of the property, the city can suspend their rental permit. Once the landlord addresses the violations and the health department re-inspects the property to confirm the problems have been fixed, they can get their permit back.
The health department can also revoke a landlord’s rental license if serious and repeated violations have occurred or a suspension has been in effect for longer than 90 days. That happened to Stonegate Meadows twice, according to the class action lawsuit.
“The blame lies squarely at the feet of Stonegate,” Bonacorsi said.
Bonacorsi said health department inspections help, but more enforcement is necessary to hold bad landlords accountable.
“People will get brought to court on minor citations for not keeping their property up, but we don't see the landlords being held to account at all in the same way,” he said.
‘A rainforest in the kitchen’
Stonegate Meadows advertises itself as offering a “quiet living inside the hustle and bustle of Kansas City.”
But for former tenants Roosevelt Price and Michele Williams, life at Stonegate was anything but.
Williams and Price Williams lived at Stonegate from 2016 until this February on a Section 8 voucher. Stonegate moved them between three different units over their seven years as each developed problems that made them uninhabitable.
In their first, there were cockroaches and leaks on each floor.
“When it rains, it was coming into my son's bedroom,” Williams said. “It created a bubble on his ceiling. Then when the bubble had popped, it left a hole right there. … His room literally ended up collapsing.”
In the second unit, the family dealt with mold and more leaks that led to the collapse of the kitchen ceiling. The shower was above the kitchen, and water would often leak down.
“It was pouring down rain outside like it was a rainforest,” Williams said. “That's what we called it. A rainforest in the kitchen.”
Because of the ceiling collapse and water damage, the family lost most of their belongings. In their third unit, the same problems persisted: cockroaches, mold, issues with water.
Williams and Price reported these problems to Stonegate Meadows, often to no avail, until the problems significantly worsened.
“What do we have to do in order to be able to live in a good environment for our kids?” Price said. “You do the proper things by paying your rent, reporting any problems that you need fixed, and it just doesn't get solved.”
Their daughter developed a respiratory syncytial virus infection from the poor living conditions, landing her in the hospital for two weeks. Both Williams and Price lost their jobs because they were at the hospital with their daughter.
The lawsuit alleges that Stonegate refused to invest in the maintenance, property management and infrastructure necessary to run the apartment complex. Skeleton crews, high staff turnover, a lack of expert maintenance staff and no formal process to report maintenance issues meant complaints from tenants like Williams and Price were not adequately addressed.
It meant small leaks turning into a ceiling collapse.
“If they would fix the things that need to be fixed right then and there, they wouldn't have so many problems,” Williams said.
Bonacorsi said Stonegate Meadows has a lot of potential to provide quality affordable housing.
“We have a shortage of affordable housing,” he said. “It could be such a vibrant and important community, but because they have failed to invest in the property — despite all the rent that they're getting, despite all the taxpayer dollars — we're in the situation that we are now.”
The Housing Authority of Kansas City revoked Williams and Price’s housing voucher because of how deplorable the conditions had gotten, the lawsuit says. The family had to scramble to find a new home that accepts Section 8.
And they did — the couple moved into a new home in Raytown in February.
“We love it. Our kids love it,” Williams said. “They act like themselves again, they’re comfortable, they sleep through the night. And we don't hear no gunshots, no arguing, no fussing, no fighting. Just hear the geese.”