KCTV5 News investigators are exposing the truth about one of Kansas City’s biggest landlords.
A company named “Raineth” has been snapping up low-income property for years and that company is behind nearly $600,000 in property taxes. Raineth doesn’t just owe money to Jackson County. The company owes Cincinnati $600,000 in property taxes and St. Louis $1.1 million. Overall, the company owes over $2 million.
Raineth has been on the city’s radar for years. The assistant city manager gives that company an F+.
“I find them to be negligent. They aren’t good neighbors. I would prefer they weren’t here,” says frustrated Kansas City Assistant City Manager John Wood.
The city isn’t the only one frustrated with Raineth. Roberta Dayberry wakes up every morning and sees dilapidated Raineth properties out her window.
“It’s scary. I don’t get out after dark,” she says motioning to the homes in shambles.
Raineth owns three houses on her block. She nicknames them. One she calls “marijuana house,” because it took a full day for law enforcement to remove all the plants. It’s now boarded up.
She calls another house “the dump.” It’s boarded up too. It’s now a dumping ground and neighborhood eyesore.
When KCTV5 told Dayberry the owner was massively behind on his property tax, it added insult to injury.
“They ought to be hunted down and ought to be made to pay,” she said.
Raineth owns more than 450 properties in Jackson County, many like the mess Dayberry sees outside her window. Nearly all the homes are on Kansas City’s east side, with a handful in Independence, Sugar Creek and Wyandotte County.
Raineth’s blight and back property taxes are not Dayberry’s only beef with Raineth.
“How can they do this?” she asked. “How can they treat people the way they do? $800 or $900 for trash dumps. He ought to be thrown in jail and locked up forever as far as I’m concerned.”
KCTV5 spoke to current and former tenants -- most were not happy renters.
“I’ve got mice. I’ve got roaches and I got wood rot. It was leaking in my home and he said if you pay up maybe we’ll do something for you. And I was like, oh my God,” says Voncelle Dawson who once lived in a Raineth property.
“I would never recommend them," another tenant, Seth Rule, said.
The story behind Raineth
If any of the tenants and neighbors want to have a face to face conversation with Raineth’s owner, they’d have to hop on a plane to sunny, southern California.
Ed Renwick lives in a $3 million home on the outskirts of a gated community. Renwick has paid his property taxes on his home.
KCTV5’s sister station in St. Louis, KMOV, sent an investigative reporter to Renwick’s house to get the bottom of the millions he owes in back taxes in their area.
Renwick says he had the best of intentions. He wanted to turn a profit while giving low-income communities access to affordable housing. He admitted the company owes a lot of money and he's not happy about it. Renwick blamed being “behind on profitability.”
Raineth’s owner points out his company has paid some taxes, rehabbed homes and created jobs but admits things have been rocky.
“We bought a lot of houses and running the houses was more complicated than we thought,” says Renwick. “We had a choice: stop investing in our tenants or fall behind in taxes and we chose to fall behind in taxes.”
But Kansas City neighbors point out that it’s hard to see the investment, especially since Raineth is still collecting federal housing dollars which is funded by tax dollars. Records show Raineth has collected more than $2.6 million in public housing funds in Kansas City.
However, many of Raineth’s homes are empty, boarded up and not rental ready. When asked about the vacant homes, Renwick says he bought the homes in that condition and hasn’t had money to fix them yet. He wants to assure St. Louis, Cincinnati and Kansas City, there’s a plan. His company is working to find new investors and plans to pay the back taxes in the next few months.
But this doesn’t appease Assistant City Manager John Wood, the man in charge of housing for Kansas City.
Wood says he’s shadowboxing big out of state, and sometimes out of country companies, buying up cheap properties and letting the homes fall into further disrepair.
“I find them to be negligent,” says Wood. “They aren’t good neighbors. I would prefer they weren’t here. They buy homes low, put a little money into it to make improvements, charge a certain amount to meet a rate of return. I think it’s criminal in my mind.”
Why property taxes matter
A majority of property taxes goes to fund local school districts.
Of Raineth’s total owed to Jackson County, $200,000 of that is for the Kansas City School District and $71,000 would go to the smaller Center School District.
While $71,000 may seem like a drop in the bucket compared to the total property taxes Raineth's owes, Center School District Superintendent Sharon Nibbelink says it would change lives.
She says $71,000 would give every elementary student in one school Chromebooks. The district views technology to reach low income students and show them the world.
Renwick points out the schools are getting more money than they were originally supposed to get because of the late fees he now must pay.
“Here and now is when we have a responsibility to education for our students. We can’t wait and do it later,” Nibbelink responded. “I do not have a problem with him making good money. Do not do it at the expense of children and families.”
Inside a Raineth home
One of the many homes Raineth owns is at 68th Street and Bales Avenue. White plywood covers the windows. Carpet and beer cans litter the front yard.
Vacant homes are often magnets for illegal dumping, squatters and criminals. It’s a rampant problem in Kansas City, not just for the homes Raineth owns.
Renwick assured us once his property management gets word of a mess outside the home, they promptly clean it up. However, Renwick says roughly a third of his properties are currently vacant. That's a daunting job for any company to keep up.
One Raineth tenant says the properties people can live in aren’t much better than the vacant ones.
KCTV5 visited one of Raineth’s tenants on one of the coldest days of the year. Sherrie Johnson lives on Olive street with her young daughter.
“It gets so cold in here you can see your breath,” says Johnson.
She heats her home using a propane tank on top of a cinder block inside the family room. An obvious fire hazard, but, when the wind chill dips to -20 degrees and the furnace isn’t working, your options are limited.
An intermittent working oven is used to attempt to heat the kitchen. Extension cords decorate the stairs.
Johnson showed KCTV5 the furnace. Attached is a red tag which gas companies use when they deem a furnace too dangerous to use.
When KCTV5 told Renwick about Johnson’s situation, he responded that there was no gas in the home because she didn’t pay her gas bill, which is true. Johnson says she stopped paying her gas bill because she wasn’t able to use gas in the home.
Johnson restored her gas service. The gas company came out and put new red tags on her furnace, citing three major safety issues.
When we made Renwick aware of the red tags on the furnace, he immediately sent over someone to repair it.
The contractor fixed two of the problems, even taking off all those red tags.
The gas company returned, inspected the furnace and put on more red tags. The contractor was called back out.
This time, the gas company stayed with the maintenance worker until all the issues were resolved and the furnace was safe to heat the home.
In this epic struggle, Johnson admits she’s behind on her rent but hasn’t been evicted. Raineth did send her a suggestion in the mail on how to catch up on past payments.
“Please contact our team to set up your tax refund payment plan," Johnson said as she read the flyer she got in the mail out loud.
Johnson laughs at the irony at using a tax refund to pay for back rent to a company who hasn’t paid their taxes.
The irony did not escape Johnson who frankly said, “That’s bullcrap.”
But not all tenants feel Raineth is a bad landlord. One man told us Raineth worked with him when he fell behind on his rent when other companies would have likely evicted him. He says he would have been homeless if Raineth hadn’t given him time to catch up.
When tenants can’t pay
When KCTV5 told one of Raineth’s former tenants that the company owed $600,000 in back property taxes, it opened an old wound.
Voncelle Dawson doesn’t think anyone should give Raineth any grace because she wasn’t given any.
Dawson fell ill and doctors suspected she had cancer. Between mounting medical bills, tests and procedures, she fell behind on her rent.
“It was stressful,” says Dawson. “I couldn’t lift things. I just had a surgical procedure.”
Dawson was relieved to find out she didn’t have cancer, but that relief turned into anguish when Dawson and her son were evicted.
Some of Raineth's tenants say the company works with them if they can’t pay rent, but the one key difference KCTV5 found between their situation and Dawson’s is that Dawson doesn’t get Section 8.
If a landlord has a Section 8 tenant, that’s guaranteed money every month from the government, even when the tenant doesn’t pay their share.
Renwick wants people to have patience, something Dawson said the company never gave her.
“Hopefully you feel what we felt when the hammer was being put down on our head,” says Dawson. “I don’t feel compassion toward him. Deal with it, like your attorneys told me. Deal with it.”
Raineth’s owner wants people to know, getting behind on taxes and being unable to rehab the homes was not his intention. Renwick says he’s invested millions of his own money with two goals, make the world a better place by offering clean affordable housing.
KCTV5 offered Renwick a sit-down interview to address the frustrations the city, current and former tenants, school districts and neighbors had with him. He sent a statement.“Raineth has transformed more than 1,000 vacant, dilapidated structures into safe, affordable homes for people who struggle with housing. When we receive a tenant request, we are almost always able to send a repair person within 24 hours. Occasionally the repairs are not fixed in one visit. It is not our intention to leave communities with unpaid taxes; we are committed to fully paying our debts and rehabbing our vacant properties. As Raineth’s CEO, I have not taken and will not take a single penny from the business until all these outstanding bills are paid and our houses are transformed. As a father, my heart goes out to the families who have had experiences that have caused additional distress to the lives of their families.”
The investigation continues
Raineth was not on Jackson County’s radar until KCTV5 asked for a total amount of their property tax bill.
It is highly unlikely Raineth is the only major company, owing hundreds of thousands of dollars in back property taxes.
When KCTV5 asked the county for a list of the people who owe the most in property taxes, they said they couldn’t provide that list because their system can only bring up the property taxes owed on individual properties or by company name.
KCTV5 is currently compiling a list of the major property owners in Jackson County, and we’re crunching the numbers.
KCTV5's Angie Ricono and KMOV's Chris Nagus and John O'Sullivan contributed to this report.
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