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If you’re reading this, you may be searching for a place to rent in Kansas City, Missouri. 

You may have some questions, like: How much can a landlord charge for your security deposit? How much will you be paying in utility bills? How can you learn more about your prospective landlord? 

Through local, state and federal laws, you have a right to know some of this information as a tenant in Kansas City. Some of these protections are outlined in the Tenant Bill of Rights, which passed through City Council in Kansas City, Missouri, in 2019. 

Whether you’re a long-term renter, a person looking for your first apartment or someone getting ready to re-sign your lease, here’s what you need to know about tenant protections in Kansas City. 

What to know before you rent

Before you sign a lease, you can check your landlord’s history by using parcel viewer through the city website. Enter the street address of the property to find its owner. 

Tenants can also go through Jackson County’s Recorder of Deeds website to search public records on real estate ownership. Tenants can search the name of the landlord or the name of the condominium. This will also show who bought the property and when. 

Tenants can also contact KC Tenants — the housing justice group that advocated for the Tenant Bill of Rights — to see if a landlord has a history of neglect. 

In Missouri, the security deposit cannot be more than twice the cost of monthly rent. 

What information does a Kansas City landlord need to provide to tenants? 

The Tenant Bill of Rights requires landlords to give tenants information on the property’s past utility bills. Rachel North at Legal Aid of Western Missouri, which provides free civil legal help to people who need it, said if the landlord doesn’t have that information, they must give the tenant permission to contact the utility companies and request that the information be released to them.

North said it can be a good way to figure out the true cost of living at a rental property when combined with rent. Factors like poor insulation could mean higher utility bills. 

“That’s something that gives people a better idea of what their actual budget is going to look like,” North said. “Which is important so that they’re in a place that’s affordable for them, and they won’t fall behind on their rent.”

The landlord is also required to provide tenants with a copy of the Tenant Bill of Rights. North said she’s seen the bill of rights attached to a lease agreement as one way of fulfilling this. 

Gina Chiala, executive director and staff attorney at the Heartland Center for Jobs and Freedom, added that landlords are required to provide an address where the tenant can reach the landlord and where tenants have to deliver their rent. Chiala said there’s always a duty for landlords to “engage in honest dealings.” 

But Chiala said landlords do not have a “legal affirmative duty” to disclose problems to the tenant. Renters who are looking at a property can better protect themselves by thoroughly reading their lease.

At the city level, when someone is looking to rent, a landlord cannot deny housing based on a previous eviction. Landlords also cannot deny housing if a tenant has a disability. 

Under federal law, landlords cannot discriminate against a tenant on the basis of race, religion, sex, sexual orientation, gender identity, marital status or familial status. 

Can my landlord drop by unannounced?

The Tenant Bill of Rights stipulates that tenants have a right to be notified before their landlord enters the property. North said landlords are required to give 24 hours’ notice before entering the tenant’s home. If notice is not given, a landlord must obtain consent from the tenant to enter. 

Under Missouri’s landlord-tenant law, a landlord can be found guilty of forcible entry “for willfully interrupting utility service,” unless the action is taken for health and safety reasons.

“If the landlord wants to come in, one, it has to be for a legitimate reason. So some necessary repairs, or to inspect the property, like a normal inspection,” North said. 

If a landlord does not get consent from the tenant or does not provide at least 24 hours’ notice before entry, the landlord may not enter, according to the Tenant Bill of Rights. 

What to do if you face unsafe living conditions as a Kansas City renter

Missouri law requires landlords to provide safe and livable housing to tenants under the warranty of habitability. Under this law, the home has to be livable, Chiala said.

“There shouldn’t be roaches, bedbugs, mice infestations,” she said. “The plumbing should be sound, structure should be sound.”

Under the Tenant Bill of Rights, rental properties must maintain working amenities that include water heaters, heating equipment, water and sewage, electrical fixtures and plumbing. 

Landlords must also repair appliances that were provided at the start of a lease. 

“If you moved into this place and you had a reasonable expectation there would be a refrigerator that works because there was one when you went and looked at it, and then you move in and two weeks later, it breaks, the landlord needs to fix it,” Chiala said. 

And if there are worse problems that impact the livability of the home — a bug infestation, for example — Chiala said the landlord has a duty to fix it. 

Chiala said it’s important for tenants to document the condition of their home when they first move in. 

“As is the case, in law, there’s always two sides of the story,” she said. “And it’s just a matter of who’s going to be the most convincing. So that’s why it’s always important to document and keep track of what’s happening and put everything in writing.”

What to do if poor living conditions are not fixed

If the issues are not resolved, North encourages tenants to contact Kansas City’s Healthy Homes Rental Inspection Program, an initiative under the city’s Health Department that inspects and provides health and safety standards in rental housing. 

If any violations are found, the inspectors will notify the landlord, who has to fix the issue.

“Then they’ll kind of keep going through that process until the landlord complies and fixes the issue,” North said of Healthy Homes. 

Chiala said tenants can also contact 311, Kansas City’s hotline to report problems or find information; the Heartland Center for Jobs and Freedom for legal advice if they believe their tenant rights are being violated; or KC Tenants. 

“Because those ordinances don’t mean much unless they’re enforceable, and in order to get them enforced, sometimes it requires organizing, and KC Tenants is the organization that tenants can participate in in order to be able to organize,” Chiala said. 

If a landlord denies a repair is needed, they must provide a written statement disputing the need for a repair within 14 days of being notified by the tenant in writing. But if this step isn’t taken, under the Tenant Bill of Rights, the tenant can deduct the cost of repairs from their rent. This can be done if the tenant has lived there for six consecutive months and paid all rent without violating the lease.

A tenant can then decide to do the repair themselves. If this happens, the tenant can submit an itemized statement with receipts to the landlord. The cost of the repair can be deducted from one month’s rent, up to either $300 or half the cost of monthly rent, whichever is more, according to the Tenant Bill of Rights. 

Chiala advises putting everything in writing, detailing all the problems and sending a copy to the landlord. 

“Because under the law, they’re only protected if they gave the landlord notice and a reasonable time to make the repairs,” she said. “And so by putting your request for repairs in writing, you’re making sure that you have proof that you gave them that notice.”

The Tenant Bill of Rights protects a tenant from retaliation by their landlord if a tenant complains about a violation of city code. Landlords cannot retaliate against a tenant or their dependent for being a survivor of sexual violence or domestic violence. 

Retaliation can include increasing charges, reducing services, harassing the tenant, or filing or threatening to file an eviction. 

“So then the question becomes, does the tenant have the capacity to force their rights if there is retaliation?” Chiala said. “It’s just important, I think, to be in touch with support — legal support and organizing support — in order to try to stave retaliation off.”

What to know when you move out

Kansas City landlords are required to return security deposits within 30 days of moving out. Landlords must return the full amount unless they have specific reasons to deduct a portion of the deposit. 

If the landlord thinks there is damage to the apartment to be taken out of the security deposit, North said the landlord is still required to provide within 30 days an itemized receipt showing the specific reasons why part or all the security deposit is being withheld. 

A tenant may dispute the alleged damage — it may have been damage that the landlord was supposed to fix and is now charging the tenant for instead. 

North said the tenant can take the landlord to small claims court for wrongfully withholding a deposit.

If a landlord is found to have wrongfully withheld some or all of the security deposit, according to the Tenant Bill of Rights, tenants can recover twice the amount of money that was withheld. 

If a renter is a survivor of domestic violence and feels unsafe in the home they’re renting, they can break their lease early by giving notice to the landlord and the reasons the tenant qualifies, according to Missouri law. If the lease is broken, the resident cannot be held liable for rent for the time after the tenant left.

North said if a tenant follows these steps, they should be let out of their lease without being charged early termination fees.

“If your abuser knows where you live, you don’t want to be there anymore, because it’s not safe,” she said. “And this protection allows you to do that.”

Resources

If you are a renter with questions about your landlord or living situation, or you’re looking for resources or legal advice, you can contact the following organizations:

  • Heartland Center for Jobs and Freedom: 816-278-1344
  • Legal Aid of Western Missouri: 
    • Office on 920 Southwest Boulevard: 816-474-9868
    • Office on 4001 Blue Parkway: 816-474-6750
  • KC Tenants:

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Celisa Calacal covers economics and civic engagement issues for The Beacon. Follow her on Twitter @celisa_mia or email her at celisa@thebeacon.media.