Lora McDonald says she had to live with mold in her Kansas City, Missouri, apartment for six months before her landlord took any action.
“It is a long time to live with mold outside my son’s bedroom,” McDonald says.
McDonald, executive director of More2 and an advocate for equitable housing, says she took her concerns all the way to the director of the Kansas City health department, who told her that aside from testing for mold and advising the landlord to fix it, there was nothing the city could do.
A measure on the ballot in August aims to change that. It would charge owners of rental properties an annual $20 registration fee per unit, which the city would use to hire inspectors to respond to complaints from tenants. If problems aren’t fixed, landlords would have to pay higher re-inspection fees until the issue is resolved. Inspections would be prompted by complaints.
At least 50 other cities across the country, including Kansas City, Kansas, and Independence and St. Louis, Missouri, have implemented similar programs.
McDonald was eventually able to get the manager of her Northland apartment complex to fix the issue, but she says not everyone has the resources she had to deal with landlords.
A similar inspection program was introduced to the city council last year by Mayor Pro Tem Scott Wagner, but it failed to get enough support from the city council to make it onto the ballot.
Some councilmembers argued that only a small percentage of landlords currently comply with a city requirement to register rental properties — they worried how the city could enforce the program.
The ordinance on the August ballot was brought by a citizen initiative petition, so the council was compelled to place it on a citywide ballot.
Stacey Johnson-Cosby is a real estate agent and landlord and represents the Mid-America Association of Real Estate Investors. She says everyone deserves safe, quality housing and that the city should shut down the properties of landlords who do not provide that.
“I think that bad landlords need to be put out of business today,” Johnson-Cosby says.
That echoes comments made by area landlords last year, who told the Housing Committee the city needed to solve the problems caused by a few bad property owners without assessing a fee from those who maintain their properties.
Councilwoman Alissia Canady, who sits on the committee that failed to pass Wagner’s ordinance, is still not convinced an inspection program is the best solution. She worries bad landlords still won’t fix problems, or they’ll opt to increase rent or even close properties, displacing families with nowhere else to go.
Canady says Kansas City doesn’t have enough affordable housing to accommodate families that are forced out.
“I’m still looking to see if we’re going to have sufficient revenue to address the backlash that’s going to come from an ordinance like this,” Canady says.
Canady, who is running for mayor next year, points to a similar measure adopted in Dallas in 2016 that, so far, has not had the desired impact.
But advocates say a lack of regulations is exactly what attracts absentee landlords who let conditions deteriorate.
They add that landlords have much more power than tenants — landlords can start evictions proceedings if they suspect any illegal activity, whereas tenants who live in unsafe conditions have no such recourse.
The measure will be on the Kansas City, Missouri, ballot on August 7th.
Lisa Rodriguez is a reporter and the afternoon newscaster for KCUR 89.3. Follow her on Twitter @larodrig.