A Kansas City woman learned too late about a landlord licensing program that could have prevented her from moving into a rental home which she says made her sick.
Lisa Erwin used a cell phone to record the last few minutes she spent inside a Kansas City, KS, rental home, just off North 38th Street, before she packed up her cats and moved into a hotel.
"You can't smell it but the stench is pretty bad in here," Erwin said on the video. "You can already see all the bugs. Here's a big crack. I've actually seen bugs crawling out of."
Erwin said it was the six acres of secluded land surrounding the particular property that convinced her to sign the lease. She thought it provided the perfect location for a home spa and retreat.
"The point was to come up here and start something a little different and build a business up here," Erwin said.
After just two weeks, Erwin said she had to abandon the place.
"It was a huge nightmare," Erwin said.
She meant that literally.
"I woke up at 5 a.m., completely nauseous, sick to my stomach, very ill," she said.
Erwin said the gut-wrenching smell that made her sick was not present when the landlord showed her the place.
But she said, shortly after moving in, the stench began taking over the house. When complaints to the landlord failed to improve things to Erwin's satisfaction, she reached out for help.
"We really called the city to see if I had any rights," Erwin said. "The city said to us, 'We don't have any record of that house being a rental.'"
The Unified Government of Wyandotte County requires the licensing and inspection of all rental properties.
According to records obtained by KCTV5 in May, the county's page list is filled with the names of more than 6,700 approved properties and their landlords.
To make it on the list, each property must be inspected for health, safety and building codes.
Neither Erwin's landlord nor her rental address appeared on that list. When the county found that out, they slapped a yellow violation sticker on the front door.
KCTV5 contacted the landlord about the missing license.
She called the issue a paperwork "oversight." As for the conditions of the home, she said Erwin complained a lot, then disconnected the call.
Wyandotte County's rental licensing coordinator, Debby Graber, takes care of the inspections required before renters are allowed to occupy a property.
"Most of the time when tenants go in they are looking at the aesthetics of the property or how it works for their family," Graber said. "We look for things that could potentially be problem for them later on."
Some of the things that will prevent her inspectors from passing a property include exterior problems, like bars on the windows, unsafe gas lines and potential electrical hazards. The issues she has seen range from the dangerous to just plain strange.
"In one case a few years back, we walked into a kitchen and there was a commode sitting in the kitchen and no walls around it. I mean it was just sitting there," Graber said.
Graber said she struggles to comprehend the quality of housing some landlords are willing to put up for lease.
"I've never understood how anyone could rent a piece of property they wouldn't live in themselves," Graber said.
"They (landlords) have a responsibility to that property and this community," Graber said.
Wyandotte County's licensing program takes the power out of a landlord's hands. But KCTV5 discovered not every community looks out for tenants in this way.
On the Missouri side of the Kansas City metro, Gladstone and Raytown have zero landlord licensing requirements.
Lee's Summit requires a license only when a landlord rents more than one property.
Kansas City, North Kansas City, Independence, Blue Springs and Grandview have some form of rental licensing or inspections.
Across the state line, most Kansas cities have rental property rules.
When it comes to inspections, Lawrence inspects 10 percent of properties every year.
Merriam inspects all properties every two years. Mission doesn't inspect inside any single-family rentals. Olathe does not inspect or register any rental property.
Learning about the Wyandotte County landlord licensing list was a tough lesson for Erwin.
"I've never in my whole life ... ever rented ... had to look up a landlord to see if they have a license or a history of the house or anything like that," Erwin said.
She hopes her story will keep others from making a similar mistake.
"It was horrendous," Erwin said. "It was probably one of the worst experiences that I've ever been in."
Erwin's ex-landlord has filed for a license since it was learned she was operating without one.
Wyandotte County gives landlords 45 days to apply for a license. If that doesn't happen, a landlord can be slapped with a summons for municipal court.
Even so, the county knows there are still some landlords yet to be discovered which means renters must do their homework before signing a lease.
Copyright 2013 KCTV (Meredith Corp.) All rights reserved.
Tuesday, September 2 2014 8:44 PM EDT2014-09-03 00:44:29 GMT
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