KAKE NEWS INVESTIGATES: Forced to live in filth

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WICHITA, Kan. (KAKE) -

Trina Hawkins has lived at Farmington Place Apartments for more than a year and a half. She cleared some spiderwebs when she walked through her home one afternoon in late August. But that is far from what upsets her about the living conditions.

Climbing the steps to her unit, her anger started to escalate just as high. And when she pointed to mold on the walls of her kitchen, she became frustrated.

“That’s been sitting there for, maybe, three months?” she said. “I’ve put in work orders and nothing’s been done. Basically I have to get a towel and some bleach and scrub it to get as much done as I can.”

The mold can make anyone feel sick, almost immediately. But she has more complaints than just that.

She’s put in multiple work orders for everything from leaky pipes to a security door. But the worst problem may have been in the bathroom – backed up toilet so bad, she couldn’t flush for days.

“Basically you flush it, and it goes down and then the water comes all the way back up,” she said. “It leaves your toilet nasty and disgusting.”

Outside the conditions were pretty rough, too. Weeds are growing from the bottom of the tennis court and the pool was shut down for months. She’d had enough and wasn’t sure where else to turn.

“The response is – everything has to get approved by the owner, or everything has to be approved by the management company,” Hawkins said. “I went in and showed them face-to-face on my phone and nothing has been done.”

Another tenant said he had a similar reaction in recent months. He posted his exchange on Facebook Live, and the manager there called police on him.

Hawkins hasn’t gone that far but she’s not sure what else she can do.

“I’m just hoping and praying that once my lease is up, I’m going to move up and go somewhere else,” she said.

The frightening part of all of this, is that Hawkins is far from alone. In the last few months, KAKE News Investigates got calls and emails from hundreds of tenants in dozens of different apartments. Complaints were similar to Hawkins with others worried about infrastructure and even building stability. Many of them, like Hawkins, weren’t sure where to turn.

But in Downtown Wichita, inside the Ronald Reagan Building, there is a division that insists it is trying to help.

“If you make a request of your landlord, do it in writing,” said KaLyn Nethercot, the Neighborhood Inspection Administrator for the Metropolitan Area Building and Construction Department. “Then you have a document. It avoids face to face, uncomfortable confrontations. It outlines specifically what your concerns are.”

Her office inspects apartments in Sedgwick County. It has fifteen inspectors which opened more than 9,000 cases across the county after tenants complained. But she fears that number is much higher. Her office often gets incomplete messages in which tenants won’t leave and address or return number.

And they can’t enter a property without the resident’s permission.

“We try to get the word out that we are a resource for tenants. We can also work with landlords if they need to make a valid request for a permit, a building or an electrical permit.”

Back at Farmington Place, three weeks after KAKE News Investigates began calling, new management picked up and immediately invited a team to see the renovations already being worked on.

“The owner bought the property three months ago,” Nicholas Nawojczyk, the new manager of the complex, said. “Hired me last week and I started yesterday. I came into a storm. There’s a lot of improvements made but he’s putting a lot of money into the property.”

The parking lot was being repaved and the new management company promised the site would be renovated.

“We started remodeling units, we’re starting with vacancies, putting new flooring in, new carpet,” he said. “A significant change in the way this was treated.”

Hawkins said the toilet was finally fixed, but it took three weeks and new managers to do it. She’d like to see new drywall but was told that so far, crews wanted to simply paint over it.

“I’d just like answers,” she said.

To contact MABCD, you can call 316-660-1840.

For advice on tenant rights from Kansas Legal Services, click here.

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