Jackson County Judge Holds Notorious Corporate Landlord In Contempt, Fines It $1,000 A Day
Tenants of Ruskin Place Apartments in south Kansas City have complained of water leaking through windows, mold, sagging floors, inadequate heat, unsecured doors and “large critters” roaming through the units.
A corporate landlord that’s been the subject of numerous complaints over the deplorable living conditions at its apartments has been held in civil contempt and fined $1,000 a day by a Jackson County judge.
Circuit Judge Joel P. Fahnestock issued the order Tuesday after an affiliate of T.E.H. Realty ignored previous court orders to produce the names and addresses of current and former tenants of its Ruskin Place Apartments in south Kansas City.
In February, Fahnestock granted the tenants the right to sue T.E.H. as a class after they complained of water leaking through windows, mold, sagging floors, inadequate heat, unsecured doors and “large critters” roaming through the units.
T.E.H., which was founded in Israel in 2006 and specializes in low-income housing, owns numerous apartment complexes in the Kansas City and St. Louis areas as well as in Tulsa, Indianapolis and Reading, Pennsylvania. Ruskin Place, at 11418 Blue Ridge Blvd., has 169 units.
"Buy crappy buildings, take the rent, don't fix up the buildings and then when you get a judgment entered against you, ignore it. That's their business model," said the tenants' attorney, Gregory Leyh.
In addition to the case brought 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, a T.E.H. affiliate that owns Crown Manor Apartments in St. Louis filed for Chapter 11 protection. The St. Louis Post-Dispatch reported that Crown Manor is one of 12 apartment complexes T.E.H. affiliates have purchased in the St. Louis area since 2004.
T.E.H. has consistently ignored court orders and recently fired its attorney, Kent Dryer, in the Ruskin Place lawsuit. Fahnestock issued her contempt order after she directed T.E.H. last week to show cause why it shouldn’t be held in contempt for “contumaciously, willfully, and disobediently” violating her order to turn over the names and addresses of the tenants. She said the $1,000 per day fine would continue until the company complied.
Jackson County property records indicate that T.E.H. affiliates own more than a dozen apartment complexes in Kansas City, Raytown and Grandview. The affiliates all go under the name KM-T.E.H. Realty followed by a numeral.
T.E.H. officials did not return a call to its corporate headquarters in Reading. That’s consistent with its past practice of hanging up on reporters seeking comment.
Earlier this month, the company broke its silence when T.E.H. co-founder Eliram Rabin told the Post-Dispatch of plans to expand in the St. Louis area. Asked by the newspaper about basement flooding, mold and broken air conditioning at one of its apartment complexes, Rabin expressed puzzlement, according to the paper.
“Which issues?” the paper quoted him as saying. “Where? In what building? In which apartment?”