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Kansas City tenants living in 'inhumane' apartments win $2 million from California landlord

 Three light-colored, three-story apartment buildings sit in a cluster. The middle building shows plywood sheets covering the windows on the bottom floor.
Carlos Moreno
KCUR 89.3
One of several buildings at the Cloverleaf apartment complex shows damaged or boarded-up windows. The California-based landlord has agreed to pay $2 million to current and former tenants and cannot own property in Missouri for 10 years.

Tenants in the Cloverleaf Apartment complex reported major leaks, mold, pest infestations and a chronic lack of hot water or air conditioning. The landlord can no longer own property in Missouri for 10 years.

Tenants at a troubled apartment complex in Southeast Kansas City settled a class action lawsuit this week against their landlord and property manager — two Beverly Hills-based real estate investors that operated LLCs in Kansas City.

The apartment complex, a cluster of three buildings located near Grandview at 14410 U.S. 71, has had more than 65 healthy homes complaints since 2021. Tenants reported major leaks, a lack of air conditioning, no hot water for months, holes in the ceilings and walls, mold and mildew, and bedbug infestations.

Gregory Leyh, who represented the tenants in the case, said the conditions were “systemically inhumane” for every tenant, the majority of whom are low-income Black women.

“They will not fix anything because these are two Beverly Hills real estate investors that until a week or two ago, a couple weeks ago, owned the property,” Leyh said. “They just won't invest anything in upkeep because it's undercapitalized. They're getting Section 8 money in the door. (The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development) is paying money for these tenants. HUD requires safe, sanitary, and decent living conditions, and they're anything but. They take the money and they don't obviously maintain it.”

The complex has been plagued by shootings, squatters, a major fire, and several homicides in recent years. Leyh said Stonebridge only began using private security after the class action lawsuit began.

Bironeisha Robinson lived at Cloverleaf from 2019 to 2022. Soon after she moved in, she started having issues with a major leak in her apartment that went unaddressed. Because of the leak, the floor throughout most of her unit was wet and moldy. The water damage eventually caused the ceiling to cave in on her son.

“I didn't think something like that could mess with you mentally, but it did,” Robinson said. “I had to keep my son basically in one room because the majority of the house floor was wet. At that time he was just a newborn. So, his breathing was kind of starting to mess up a little bit because of that mold and then they basically just didn't care.”

Robinson reported the issues to management for more than a year, but no one ever permanently fixed the issues in her apartment. Maintenance did come out at one point, but didn’t fix any of the deep-rooted issues — instead, they painted over the mold.

A hole in the ceiling shows the roof and a hole leading to the outdoors, letting light in
Gregory Leyh
Dorothy Simpson's ceiling caved in, leaving her apartment exposed to the outdoors. Management did not fix the collapse for weeks, during which time birds started living in her apartment.

Dorothy Simpson, the representative of the class, has lived at Cloverleaf since 2007. She filed the lawsuit May 19, 2021, alleging the owners were illegally collecting rent when the apartments were uninhabitable and dangerous. At one point, Simpson’s ceiling collapsed, leaving the sky exposed and allowing birds to get into her unit. Cloverleaf didn’t fix the collapse for weeks.

“There is a story to tell about slumlords in the US using LLCs to shield themselves from liability while deliberately avoiding the maintenance required to maintain healthy living conditions,” Leyh said.

The settlement states the landlords used deceptive means to collect rent and that the units were “unfit to live in, dangerous and unsanitary.” It requires the landlords and property manager – Cloverleaf Apartments Investors, LLC, Stonebridge Global Partners, LLC, and Seldin Company – to pay $2 million in cash divided between the current and former tenants from July 2015 to now.

Cindy Powers, the chief administrative officer for Seldin, said the lawsuit and settlement were based on the operation of Cloverleaf from 2015-2023, of which the company only served as the property manager for one year.

“Seldin served as the managing agent for Cloverleaf Apartments from September 2020 to September 2021,” Powers said. “While Seldin fervently disputes that it is responsible for the poor condition of Cloverleaf Apartments, Seldin is pleased that this settlement may lead to tangible improvements in the lives of the tenants. “

The settlement money has already been disbursed to Leyh and he’s beginning the process of splitting it between the more than 140 tenants involved in the case.

A breaker box near a stairwell shows exposed wiring
Gregory Leyh
Tenants alleged that the landlord of the complex consistently ignored severe maintenance issues, even after months of reporting.

Cloverleaf was also required to pay attorney fees, document storage and photocopying fees, and pay $50,000 due to misconduct during the two years it took it to litigate the case – including obstructing document discovery throughout the litigation.
Tenants don’t have to move from Cloverleaf, but most of them have or are planning to. As part of the settlement, Stonebridge must release all rent and possession claims against suit members and sell the apartment complex to a new buyer, NB Affordable LLC, a New Jersey-based company that focuses on the preservation and redevelopment of affordable housing.

Robinson initially tried to transfer to a new apartment within the complex but was told she’d be placed in a unit with a mice infestation. Instead, Robinson moved to a house that she said is safe and has no issues. She’s going to use the settlement money to replace the furniture that was ruined by mold at Cloverleaf and buy her son medicine for the breathing issues he’s had since living there.

The settlement also prevents Stonebridge Global Partners, the owners of the apartment complex, from purchasing another property in Missouri for 10 years.

The United States Department of Housing and Urban Development supports the sale of the building to NB Affordable. HUD previously described the living conditions at Cloverleaf as “Calcutta-like squalor.”

“We're cautiously optimistic because they (NB Affordable) have a history of being more community oriented in a serious way,” Leyh said. “Their history is more aligned with honestly working with low-income tenants to produce affordable housing for them and habitable housing. In contrast to these guys we were dealing with, nobody could be this bad.”

Robinson hopes that the new owners renovate Cloverleaf and make the complex truly liveable. She wants to ensure that those who weren’t able to move out like her, still get the housing they deserve.

“A lot of people that live there that are not as fortunate as I am to just get up and leave because Cloverleaf rent is based off income,” Robinson said. “So some people are basically forced to stay there because that's all they can afford at the moment. I just really hope they really do fix it up so those people won't have to go through that.”

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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