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Utilities are restored to Kansas City apartments, but tenants say landlord is still absentee

A man wearing a heavy coat and blue stocking cap walks with another man in a green jacket near a large red-brick building.
Carlos Moreno
KCUR 89.3
FTW Investments CEO Parker Webb, left, walks with an electrician Monday morning to inspect the code violations at Gladstone Court apartments following a fire there Friday that left residents without heat.

Residents spent the weekend in the bitter cold at the Gladstone Court Apartments after losing heat Friday morning. By Monday, the landlord was working to turn the gas back on. But many residents said this was the first time they had seen an owner.

The owners of a northeast Kansas City apartment complex say they have corrected the code violations that prevented Spire from restoring natural gas service to dozens of residents who have been without heat for days.

Residents of the Gladstone Court apartment complex on N. Lawn Avenue have been without heat since Jan. 20, when a fire knocked out utilities in the building. The Kansas City Fire Department told residents they would not turn the gas meters back on because of multiple dangerous code violations found in the building. At the time, officials said they were unable to contact the property owner to fix the issues.

By midday Monday, property owners had returned to the complex, and on Tuesday morning, the gas had been turned back on.

“As soon as we found out what the violations were, because that did take until this morning, we immediately had them addressed,” said Mike Hardin, a public relations consultant forFTW Investments, which owns Gladstone Court apartments.

Parker Webb, CEO of FTW, toured the complex with an electrician Monday afternoon. The next day, Webb was out picking up trash in front of the buildings.

“More than anything else, we want people to have clean, safe, dignified housing," Webb said, "and, you know, this weekend is obviously, you know, not a great look for that.”

Several broken or boarded windows dotted the building's brick façade. An entrance was boarded up. Parts of the building still smelled smoky and several apartment units on the first floor were littered with debris. Visitors entering the building at one entrance needed to step over charred wood to go upstairs.

While local media gathered outside the building Monday afternoon, a woman who wouldn’t identify herself yelled out from the second floor: “It’s cold.”

An interior of an apartment room shows plywood paneling covering the windows with broken glass and other debris on the floor.
Carlos Moreno
KCUR 89.3
A room on the first floor of Gladstone Court apartments is one of several boarded up and vacant spaces in the 48-unit complex.

In a press release issued on Sunday, Webb — who is also on the board for social services nonprofit reStart — said the fire was caused by unhoused people illegally entering the property.

The Kansas City Fire Department has not yet said what caused the fire.

Hardin said wiring that was damaged near where the fire originated needed to be repaired before Spire would agree to turn on the gas meters.

Residents spend the weekend without heat in freezing temperatures

A few of the complex’s residents temporarily moved to a hotel on Saturday evening, but many chose to stay. They feared their belongings would be stolen.

Webb said everyone who lived in the building should be back by Wednesday.

Gladstone apartments has 48 units, many of which are empty. Windows are boarded up, but tenants say people regularly find a way inside.

Lisa Ramirez lives across the street in Dakota apartments, which is also owned by FTW.

“We’ve got a lot of drifters that go on around here,” she said. “These aren’t the ones you’re feeling sorry for. These are the wrong ones that are out there wanting to damage people, up to no good.”

Several of the tenants are immigrants, many of whom speak limited or no English.

Mai Chaw chose to remain in the apartments with her family.

“Pretty cold at night,” Chaw said. “We stay in the bed with blankets.”

Chaw said she’s lived in the building for eight years. A native of Thailand, Chaw said she is accustomed to cooking at home and was frustrated to have to go out to eat for all her meals.

“We’re not like U.S. people,” she said. “We eat rice and fish that we cook.”

Sophia Be also chose to stay in the building with her husband and four children. Be helped organize the residents of the building and was the first person to reach out to Kansas City Public Schools, which connected the residents with services.

A woman wearing a heavy coat and wool cap stands outside a brick apartment complex.
Carlos Moreno
KCUR 89.3
Mai Chaw eats a takeout lunch outside Gladstone Courts apartments late Monday morning. She is one of several residents who chose to stay in the apartments following a fire there Friday, even though they were without heating until late Monday.

Be wanted to be able to check on her neighbors who also stayed behind.

“It’s not healthy without heat,” Be said. “I want to help my neighbor. I want to be warm. They want to be warm too.”

A history of issues and tenant complaints

Tenants and officials on site Saturday said they had not been able to contact the property owner. But on Monday, a spokesperson for Webb said that he’d been on site throughout the weekend.

Chaw said Monday was the first time she’d seen anyone from ownership show up at the complex.

Be also said she had never seen Webb before Monday.

“No security here. I don’t see nothing here. We never met,” she said.

This isn’t the first time the building has had a damaging fire. KCFD responded to a fire in March of 2022 in one of the central buildings of the complex — some of those damages still haven’t been fixed.

The building has had 19 complaints to 311 in the past year, resulting in one health code violation, eight property violations, a dangerous building violation and four healthy homes complaints.

Hardin said FTP is in the process of selling the buildings, and expects the sale to close this week.

Updated: January 24, 2023 at 10:23 AM CST
This story has been updated after gas service resumed at Gladstone Court Apartments, and with comments from Parker Webb.
As KCUR’s general assignment reporter and visual journalist, I bring our audience inside the daily stories that matter most to the people of the Kansas City metro, showing how and why events affect residents. Through my photography, I seek to ensure our diverse community sees itself represented in our coverage. Email me at carlos@kcur.org.
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