COLUMBIA, Mo. (KMIZ)
A Columbia apartment complex where two children died last year no longer has the proper city licensing for rental properties but has applied for it.
The city’s Office of Neighborhood Services referred the owners of Columbia Square Townhomes, LIH Columbia Square Associates LLC, to the municipal prosecutor on Aug. 2 for not having a certificate of compliance. Leigh Kottwitz with Neighborhood Services said the owners failed to get one when they purchased the property in January 2022.
And that lapse could end up meaning city inspectors take a closer look at more units.
Kottwitz said the owners applied for a certificate on Thursday morning. The company is owned by LEDG Capital, a housing business based in Seattle. Yarco Property Management maintains the property.
"We also had a nice discussion with the regional manager [Wednesday] who is working to address their code violations and compliance with the on-site staff," Kottwitz said in an email on Thursday. "She communicated her interest in getting the issues resolved."
Yarco spokesperson Karen Fernandez told ABC 17 News that the owners were working on a new application. LEDG Capital has not returned a request for comment.
Rental properties must have a certificate of compliance to operate in Columbia. Getting one triggers a city inspection for several safety measures, including the presence of working smoke detectors. ABC 17 News discovered earlier this year that the city’s last inspection for a certificate of compliance at Columbia Square revealed several units lacking smoke detectors. The complex owners requested the city only check 30% of the units there.
A fire in December 2022 killed 4-year-old Ta’niyah Pate and 7-year-old J’yneisha Washington. The Columbia Fire Department could not determine what caused the fire. The families of the two girls are suing LEDG Capital and Yarco for not ensuring the unit had working smoke detectors, which they say could have saved the two girls.
Kottwitz said the fire and tenant complaints throughout the year would likely lead the city to deny any request from the property owners to check just 30% of the units during the certificate of compliance check. That means inspectors could look at all 128 units for the complex to earn its certificate.
Kottwitz called the compliance certificate a "safeguard for all tenants."
“This is a way the city along with the work of our property owners can be proactive to make sure that we’re providing housing that’s safe for our residents,” Kottwitz said.
Kottwitz said the city has received 18 tenant complaints from people living at Columbia Square Townhomes this year. The city usually gets around 250 complaints a year. ABC 17 News obtained inspection results from some of those complaints, including insects, mold and missing smoke detectors.
One tenant, who asked not to be identified because of fear of reprisal from the landlord, sent ABC 17 News a video of cockroaches in their home. The tenant said property managers treated the area for insects, but it did not stop the bugs from coming back.
Inspections have turned up broken appliances that have caused other structural damages, such as rusted water heaters and broken air conditioning condensation lines. In one inspection, a city worker reported being able to push through a wall with his finger because the wall had become so rotten. The inspector noted in that case that the maintenance supervisor said “the owner is not giving him or management the resources to fix all the issues that are being reported by the tenants.”
LIH Columbia Square has already been cited in one case by the city prosecutor. That case, which includes eight nuisance charges, claims the company did not repair the siding on several buildings over many months.
A company operating without a valid certificate of compliance could get charged with a misdemeanor for each day it goes without one. The crime is considered a misdemeanor and punishable by a maximum $500 fine. Kottwitz said the city would rarely ever consider forcing a company to close its doors for not having a license.
“If we were to carry that out fully, then we would have tenants living on the street,” Kottwitz said. “That’s not helpful. In this case, the ownership has not completed this process, and we just want them to complete that process.”
Second Ward councilwoman Andrea Waner said there needed to be accountability in the case.
"Certificates of compliance are required in order to keep members of our community safe in the places they live, learn, work, and play," Waner said. "Rental priorities in Columbia...are no exception. I am eager to see the prosecutor respond accordingly. Accountability is crucial."