‘I’m not your enemy’: Tenants Bill of Rights debate riles up many in KC rental industry

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KANSAS CITY, Mo. -- Local groups argue the metro is riddled with absentee landlords and unsafe apartments.

And surprisingly, many landlords FOX4 met with don't disagree. But they argue the Tenants Bill of Rights could just drive up prices for everyone.

The proposal would make it illegal for landlords to reject a rental application for things like a previous arrest or conviction, source of income or a previous eviction from another rental. It would also give renters the right to council in the eviction process and create a tenants advocate office.

Jim Oldebeken never thought he’d become embroiled in this highly charged debate between property owners and renters in Kansas City.

But he said he feels compelled to speak out after what he’s witnessed in the course of his job.

“Just repeated and needless hazards related to furnaces water heaters, black mold, the list goes on,” Oldebeken told FOX4.

Over the last five years, in his capacity as a maintenance technician at dozens of properties in the metro, Oldebeken estimates he’s made roughly 6,000 service calls to apartment units.

“And in about a third of them, I saw observable safety hazards that the tenant typically didn’t know about, that could cause death or cause illness,” Oldebeken said.

Those experiences moved Oldebeken to speak at Monday’s public hearing on the proposed KC Tenants Bill of Rights before the Kansas City Council’s housing committee meeting on Monday night.

The committee unanimously recommended the controversial proposal to beef up consumer protections for renters to the full city council. The council is scheduled to take action on the proposal at its Dec. 12 meeting.

“I’m not your enemy,” said Kennedy Jones, a landlord in Kansas City for 35 years. Jones conceded there are bad landlords in the metro but insisted problematic tenants pose just as many problems for the industry.

“It’s not the slumlords. They also need to look at the slum tenants,” Jones said. “And that’s the elephant in the room that they do not want to discuss.”

Many landlords insist an ordinance like this would backfire in the end.

Robert Long, president of Landlords, Inc., believes adding an additional set of ordinances on the real estate industry will likely drive up prices for both landlords and, by extension, renters.

“And is it even necessary?” Long asked. “We keep creating ordinances on top of ordinances instead of using the ordinances or the organizational structures that we have in place.”

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