CAPE GIRARDEAU, MO (KRCU) - Like many college students, Casey lives in a house that was converted into multiple apartments. It’s an old building with an old air-conditioning unit. Her bed is only a few feet away from a flimsy door that leads into somebody else’s apartment. It’s the only thing separating her from her neighbors.
And that’s not the only thing wrong with her apartment.
“When I was first moving into my apartment, there were a ton of different damages that was done,” Casey said. “There was a window that was broken, doors that didn’t fit on the hinges. Broken doors that they refused to fix or said they didn’t need to be fixed. And there was like mold on tile and things like that. They said there wasn’t a problem.”
Casey, which is not her real name, had her concerns put into her contract.
She figured that the written agreement would be enough but “it took a month for the window to be fixed, they still haven’t fixed the door,” she said.
And Casey isn’t the only one dealing with headaches caused by unresponsive landlords.
Fourth-seven percent of Cape Girardeau’s residents rent, according to the city government. Many are calling for something to be done about unsafe and often unsightly rental units.
A citizen’s initiative in 2007 asked the city to develop a rental inspection system.
While tenants like Casey like the idea of rental inspections, landlords are digging in to stop the ordinance.
At a public forum with landlords and rental managers in late June, many made their frustrations known. Some say the city needs to enforce the laws already on the books.
Laura Ritter says the ordinance is nothing more than a cleverly veiled tax.
“I’m not in favor of it because I feel like we already have the ordinances on the books now, we already have an inspector so we already have everything in place,” Ritter said. “I think this really is a revenue-created issue, somewhat like even a tax to us landlords. We’ve already got everything in place to deal with all the problems to we have here in Cape.”
David E. Soto owns and operates Soto Property Management, which operates mid- to upper-level rental properties.
Showing me around a fairly new property off Lynnwood Hills Drive, Soto said he feels no compassion for landlords with dilapidated units. But he is afraid that the city’s actions are too broad-stroked.
“If there are problem properties, I personally would like to see them get taken care of. It affects my business when I have properties in that neighborhood. It’s going to affect the rental rate on that. So it does affect me. But again just to put the broad brush of accusing everybody of having to inspect … it just seems like it is too much,” Soto said.
Soto adds that the ordinance’s fees would simply be passed on to tenants in the form of higher rent.
City Manager Scott Meyer says the city does not know the inspections’ cost and he is still weighing two different licensing fees. One would be a flat fee and the other would be based on gross revenue.
“We haven’t landed on anything,” Meyer said. “But I do think that the landlord association has met. That’s one of the things they have focused on. And we certainly are considering it.”
Nevertheless, in Casey’s apartment little has changed. The halls of her apartment are not filled with debate. Rather, they are filled with worries about work, school and mold.
“I do my best to kill it off. But they’re not paying for that. And I can’t take it off of my rent check without them saying that I still owe them money, and then tacking on charges because I did not pay the full amount of rent,” she says.
Tim Filla, KRCU