The back exterior of 3516 Independence Ave. appears under construction, with the charred electrical panel on the right side under a hole that goes through the wall of the building. Photo by Michael Bushnell

Acting on a number of citizen complaints, representatives from the City of Kansas City, Mo., Health Department, Fire Department and Police Department toured two rental properties in the 3500 block of Independence Avenue as part of the city’s Healthy Homes Rental Inspection Program on September 15.

Officials received information through neighborhood representatives that the two properties, owned by KAT Property Management Company in Lenexa, Kan., were in substandard condition. Additionally, the two buildings, 3508-10 and 3516 Independence Avenue had been the scene of three homicides since the beginning of 2020.

Scarritt Renaissance neighborhood officials identified the two properties as two of their most problematic apartments due to the criminal activity that continues to occur at the two buildings.

“Prostitution, drug dealing, shootings, those two buildings are probably the two worst in our neighborhood,” said Scarritt Renaissance Vice President Leslie Caplan on a recent Zoom meeting with city officials and local stakeholders such as Northeast Alliance Together (NEAT) and the Independence Avenue Community Improvement District (CID).

Upon arrival at the two properties Tuesday morning, Health Officials, accompanied by fire inspectors knocked on the doors of both 3508-10 and 3516 Independence Ave. While the door was not answered at the 3508-10 property, one tenant at 3516 answered the door and allowed inspectors into the common areas of the building. Legally, inspectors are only allowed to view the common areas of a multi-family building unless invited into a residential unit.

Health Department, Fire Department, Police and NEAT officials attempt to make contact with residents at 3516 Independence Ave. on Sept. 15. Photo by Michael Bushnell

Two tenants in the 3516 building granted access to inspectors who witnessed numerous health and safety violations, enough that one fire inspector on the scene said to summon a fire investigator. 

As police and inspectors continued their building tour, one individual who ended up having open warrants, fled the building and was apprehended a block North on Roberts Avenue in a stolen truck. The unit that individual came from was also occupied by a number of prostitutes. Those individuals also left the building as the inspection proceeded. 

“We’re here to maintain the safety of the tenants,” said Naser Jouhari, Senior Public Health Manager for the city’s health department. “We’ll put together a corrective action plan for the owner and sit down with him to discuss how he wants to move forward.”

Upon arrival, Kansas City Fire Investigator David Dice conducted a visual inspection of the 3516 building and immediately summoned KCPL to cut electrical power to the building.

“There are imminent threats to the tenants due to the existing electrical situation in the building,” Dice said. “One tenant upstairs was stealing power and the unsafe condition of the electrical panel in the basement creates an extremely unsafe condition in the building.”

The building, originally designed and built as a four-plex in the early part of the 20th century, has since been subdivided through various owners and now is crammed with eight units, seven of which are occupied. There is also a laundry list of open codes cases, including citations for rotting exterior wall boards, lack of paint on exterior wall trim, exterior siding missing, missing window screens and unapproved storage.

An area of vinyl siding on the rear of the building, near the electrical meters is scorched and melted, exposing a hole roughly eight inches in diameter that goes directly to the interior of an upstairs unit. A white trash bag taped over the hole is all that separates the inside of the apartment from the elements outside. The burned, melted vinyl siding and resulting hole, according to one tenant, is a remnant of a Molotov cocktail that was thrown at the building over a year ago.

Most of the tenants who live in the building receive assistance in the form of housing vouchers from a number of different non-profit agencies such as reStart or Save Inc. Tenants we spoke to said their rent of $721 per month, including utilities for a one bedroom apartment.

Lauren Worley, reStart’s Rapid Housing Program Coordinator was on the scene to re-settle two clients her organization placed in the building. Worley indicated that inspections of rental buildings are made prior to placing any reStart client in a property. She also stated the last time an inspection was done at this property was probably in January or February of this year. 

Dominique, a tenant who was placed in the building by Save Inc., said when he saw the address of the building he was being placed in after his recent release from jail, he should never have been sent back to the same environment he had left prior to serving his sentence, and that doing so put him at a much higher rate for returning to jail.

Save Inc. is a non-profit specializing in housing for “socially and medically disadvantaged people,” according to the mission statement on their website.

Tracie Rome, a Principal with KAT Management LLC, the owners and management for the property, said he was unaware of the violations that ultimately closed the property on Tuesday, but said they had been working with “local law enforcement” to clean up the building. 

“We’ve had the property for about a year and a half and we had been making huge strides until COVID hit,” Rome said. “Since that time, law enforcement has been really hands-off so it’s put us in a jam in improving the property.” 

Trash is piled in the alley behind 3516 Independence Ave. Photo by Michael Bushnell

Vito Mazarra, an Officer with the KCPD Crime Free Multi Family Housing Unit at East Patrol confirmed that he had been in contact with the owners and was working with Rome’s company. 

That notwithstanding, since January 1, 2020, there have been over 165 police calls for service to the address on everything from a residence or welfare check to a shooting that resulted in a homicide in June, one of three reported on that block since the beginning of 2020. 

Based on monthly rent amounts of $721 per month, the building generates roughly $5,000 per month in revenue from the seven units that were habitable at the time of Tuesday’s inspection and ultimate closure.

Rome verified the monthly revenue figure and added, “Every penny and nickel goes right back into the property, we’re a very hands-on landlord [and] owner.” 

Despite power being cut to the building, health department officials said that tenants could stay as long as they wanted given the building has running water, a necessary utility according to city code. One official on the scene indicated, however, that conditions were such, even with the power on that he would not reside in the structure.

The building was partially secured Tuesday night. However, windows remained open on the rear of the building Wednesday morning.