FF12: Unsafe conditions force family out of rental home

WICHITA, Kan. (KWCH) A landlord with several properties across Wichita found himself in court after repeatedly failing to make repairs to one of his rentals.

Harisha Boyd and her family moved into the home in the 1900 block of N. Erie in November of 2018. She says they felt good about the property at the time. It didn't take long for them to start noticing issues.

"It started raining on the inside of the house and the ceilings were coming down," said Boyd.

Boyd says their landlord, Roderick Gray Sr. knew about the problems before they moved in but told them nothing. She says the smell in the home was almost unbearable at times and electrical issues prevented them from running the air conditioner and dryer simultaneously. Boyd says Gray promised to fix the roof when they moved in but that never happened. She says he'd sometimes send people over to "patch things up" but nothing was fixed entirely.

In August of 2019, an inspector from the Metropolitan Area Building and Construction Department or MABCD showed up at their door with bad news.

"The house was not supposed to be occupied. He said our landlord was in court previously," said Boyd.

The inspector placed an orange placard on the home, saying it should not be occupied until all violations were corrected. Boyd and her family were allowed to stay but she says every attempt to contact their landlord was met with excuses or no response.

"He has not come here at all. We have not seen him in person," said Boyd.

Factfinder 12 looked into Roderick Gray and received a copy of the violation notice for the property through an open records request. The list of repairs includes fixing water damage in walls and ceilings, obtaining a permit for the hot water heater and plumbing in the home, repairing electrical issues and making sure all work is done by a licensed contractor. The inspector gave Gray until Aug. 15 to make the repairs. When that didn't happen Boyd made the difficult decision to move her family out of the home.

Factfinder 12 had trouble getting answers from Gray. We went to his home in east Wichita but there was no answer. We were able to get him on the phone once. At that time, he said he would take care of the issues at the home and asked us not to call him again. When the repairs were not made a week later, we called again and sent him a text giving him a chance to explain his side of the story. He responded saying, "do not call or text my phone again."

Gray owns several rental properties not far from the home on North Erie. Factfinder 12 learned his other properties have had violations in the past, including a home near 16th and North Spruce.

The tenants of the home on North Spruce let us on the property and explained they also had issues with Gray. Records show that home received the same orange placard from an inspector in the spring of 2019, meaning repairs were so extensive it could not be occupied until they were fixed.

KaLyn Nethercot, the Neighborhood Inspection Administrator for MABCD says situations like this happen more often than they'd like.

"In an ideal world they would just take care of those problems and bring those homes into code compliance so their tenants would feel safe and comfortable living there. But that's not always the case for whatever reason," said Nethercot.

Nethercot says her department often deals with repeat offenders.

Through an open records request, Factfinder 12 found out the case against Gray involving Boyd's home made it all the way to court. If he does not make all repairs, Gray could be fined or receive jail time. According to court records, a judge dismissed several items that had already been fixed by Oct. 10, but found Gray guilty on several other items. He has not yet been sentenced.

Gray isn't the only landlord in the area failing to make proper repairs. Factfinder 12 requested all violations for properties within a certain block radius of Gray's rentals in the central pocket of the city.

In 2019, about a dozen other rentals had similar violations in just that area. Some were more severe than Gray's and about half the homes received that same orange placard.

"There are pockets around the city where it is more dense than others. Obviously, the mid city area, the core area, the older homes we tend to see be more rental properties," said Nethercot.

Netercot says this is an ongoing problem and it's not easy to fight. She says the solution starts with tenants knowing how to protect themselves.

She recommends tenants always have a lease agreement and understand what it says. Also, make sure to document any complaints with a landlord in writing.

"It gives you a document trail and helps you avoid uncomfortable confrontations and conversations with your landlord. It gives us some basis to know when a complaint is received here. Because we're not the place that you start, we're the place that you go when you haven't had any other result," said Nethercot.

Nethercot points out there are plenty of positive stories of landlords properly maintaining old and aging homes. However, Boyd's case shows how one bad landlord can hurt an entire family.

"I just think it's sad. Everybody should be able to live comfortably in a house where they're able to enjoy the comfort of their home without having any health issues," said Boyd.

The orange placard has been removed from the home on North Erie. Factfinder 12 asked MABCD whether an inspector removed it or if Gray took it down himself. MABCD is looking into the case and is working to get us an answer soon.