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Kansas City Tenants Unionize After Landlord Forces Them To Leave, Landlord Says 'LOL'

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Carlos Moreno/KCUR 89.3
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The Alps resident Emily Keizer talks about organizing tenants and being forced to move out with two-months notice at the apartment complex where she's lived for just over a year.

The Alps Apartments Tenant Union argues the landlord is effectively evicting them to build luxury units many of them can’t afford. Landlord says, "I make no apologies."

Updated at 10 a.m. on Friday to reveal new eviction data.

Tenants of a Kansas City apartment complex have unionized after the owner announced plans to renovate, a move a tenants' advocate calls a "workaround" to sidestep a national eviction moratorium.

Del Hedgepath, owner of the Alps Apartments, last week notified 68 residents that they must move out by January 31 for extensive renovations that will last at least 10-to-14 months.

Union leader and Alps resident Emily Keizer said she was blindsided by the decision to renovate the building.

“It quite frankly makes my heart ache,” Keizer said. “Some of the people in my building are elderly, if they can’t find money for a new security deposit, they’ll be homeless.”

The union sent Hedgepath a list of demands, including reimbursement for December rent and a return of security deposits to each tenant by January 1.

“If these demands are not met by January 1, 2021, we are prepared to escalate,” the union stated.

Hedgepath responded: "LOL."

The union alleges Hedgepath is effectively evicting them to renovate the building into luxury apartment.

“Eviction is violence, especially in the middle of winter during an economic crisis and global pandemic,” the union wrote in a letter to Hedgepath. “You have left us scrambling to find new homes and the finances to do so.”

Hedgepath said he has no reason to agree to their demands.

“I’m still trying to figure out why in the world a tenant would think a landlord, after exercising his rights in the written lease, would agree to such silliness,” Hedgepath said. “I make no apologies.”

Hedgepath notes that while Missouri law requires at least a 30-day notice, he gave tenants 68 days’ notice.

Hedgepath says renovations to the building have been planned for years, but the tenant union is questioning the timing of the updates.

“When you bought a 100+ year old building, you knew the state it was in. Why the rush to make fixes now?” the letter asks.

The union alleges Hedgepath allowed people to live in the complex despite it having asbestos and lead paint. The letter also claims a tenant moved in as recently as November 5, just 22 days before being told they’d have to move out.

Hedgepath said the most recent lease he could recall is a 90-day lease signed in the third week of October.

“I think [Hedgepath] was just trying to get as many people in the building as possible, collect money from them, and then move forward with his plans,” Keizer said.

KC Tenants Director Tara Raghuveer said the organization fully supports the union’s efforts. Hedgepath has been offloading rundown properties, while simultaneously renovating others into luxury units, for years, she said.

“He represents a major force of gentrification in the Midtown area, in particular where he tends to own properties,” Raghuveer said.

Hedgepath said he hopes tenants consider returning to the Alps after renovations are complete. But this response is a “farce,” Raghuveer said, as the apartments will soon be transformed into units they can’t afford.

That includes resident Drake Bushnell, who says he has no plans to return to the Alps. And he doesn’t think anyone else will, either.

“There’s no one that's living here right now, I can guarantee you, that is going to want to live here,” Bushnell says. "The rent is gonna go way up, and that’s the goal.”

While new rental rates have not been set, Hedgepath estimates the current $600-a-month studios will increase to $740 after renovation. He says they are designed to be high efficiency units, and that the utility savings for tenants should be substantial.

“Nowhere have I called the new Alps a luxury apartment building, although it would certainly be within my right to renovate it into luxury apartments,” Hedgepath says.

KC Tenants has been critical of Hedgepath’s practices for years, calling him one of Kansas City’s “most notorious evictors” in a Facebook post from October.

Eviction data collected by the organization found that Hedgepath has evicted 1,360 people since 1999, including 13 during the coronavirus pandemic.

“That doesn't even include all of the mass evictions he’s done outside of the court process, so that’s a pretty conservative number,” Raghuveer said.

Raghuveer said the renovations are a "workaround" a national eviction moratorium that runs through the end of the year, allowing Hedgepath to continue evictions outside of court.

“The way we see it, evictions aren’t limited to the formal court process, there are plenty of ways informally landlords force tenants out of their homes, and this is one example,” Raghuveer said. “[Hedgepath] is using a loophole in the lease to mass evict an entire building in the middle of winter.”

Hedgepath said he “just can’t win” regarding criticisms from KC Tenants and Alps residents.

“I predict that if I were to sit back and operate the building as is, KC Tenants would be complaining about the condition of the property,” Hedgepath said. “I’m glad that my business has been successful enough that I’m able to give this 100-year-old property a total renovation. Financially speaking, I’d be way ahead to continue to operate as is.”

The decision to renovate has left many tenants with an uncertain future in the middle of a worsening pandemic.

“Push comes to shove, I might have to go back home with my mother,” said 28-year-old tenant Gary Denson. “I wasn’t expecting to do that, but I don’t have enough saved to move elsewhere.”

Bushnell says he’ll be staying with friends until he finds a new place to live, but he isn’t sure when that will be.

“People live here because they can afford it," Bushnell said. "If I could afford a better place I would do that. But I can’t right now.”

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