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KANSAS CITY, Mo. – Sandy Herndon had to push hard to open the front door of the home she is renting near 9th and Topping.

“We have to fix the door,” Herndon said.

Actually, the sticky door is the least of her problems.

When FOX4 Problem Solvers first met Herndon and her husband, Cliff, they’d been living in the home for two weeks without water or gas. Countless calls and text messages to their landlord for help had gone unanswered.

“He should never have rented the house out,” Sandy Herndon said.

The Herndons are stuck living there because they gave landlord Fred Hartman six months rent in advance. It was almost all their savings, but they thought they’d found a place they could call home.

Then they moved in. That evening, the water company turned on the water only to discover there was a major leak in the line. It was the property owner’s responsibility to fix it. 

The gas company also determined there were major issues and advised the Herndons not to use the gas until the problems were fixed. Again, the Herndons couldn’t reach their landlord.

It’s a situation unfortunately all too common for many renters in the Kansas City metro – stuck in uninhabitable living conditions but financially unable to leave.

Luckily for the Herndons, their troubled rental house is in Kansas City, which has one of the toughest programs in the country designed specifically to crack down on bad rental properties. It’s called Healthy Homes and is operated by the Kansas City Health Department.

Because it’s illegal to rent a house without water, a Healthy Homes inspector immediately called the Herndon’s landlord – who finally picked up the phone.

“We gave them to the end of business today to get the issue rectified,” said Naser Jouhari, deputy director of the Kansas City Health Department.

The Healthy Homes program doesn’t mess around. Landlords that don’t comply can lose their ability to operate in Kansas City.

“They have to have water,” Jouhari said. “They have to have electricity. They have to have what they paid for at that property.”

The landlord promised inspectors he was working on the problem, but one of his solutions to help the Herndons was alarming. He dropped off about a dozen used kitty litter containers filled with water.

“It’s nasty,” said Sandy Herndon, lifting up one of the lids.

For more than a week, Problem Solvers kept stopping by, hoping to see the problems fixed. There was some progress. Someone had dug a hole at the leak site and run a temporary water line to the house. That, in turn, flooded the basement. But with water finally flowing, the Herndons quickly discovered their water heater also wasn’t working.

Problem Solvers was there when frustrated city inspectors showed up in force. They were there to meet face-to-face with landlord Hartman, who was slapped with $800 in fines.

“I’m getting hurt out of this financially,” Hartman said.

Hartman insisted that he had no idea the gas and water were an issue until after the Herndons moved in. So why didn’t he answer his phone or respond to text messages for more than a week?

“I was down at the lake on vacation, and I don’t answer my phone when I’m down at the lake,” he said.

But Hartman said he’d been hard at work over the last two weeks trying to fix all the problems; however, he’d been having difficulty with the plumber who, he said, was waiting for a new drill to arrive.

That day, which was a month after the Herndons moved in, he offered the Herndons their money back. It was an offer the Herndons declined now that repairs were underway.

Hartman told FOX4 Problem Solvers he’s been renting properties for decades and has never had a problem with the city until now. But the Healthy Homes program is only three years old and it has been a wake-up call to Kansas City landlords with troubled properties.

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