By Celia Hack | KMUW
Tenants of Lew McGinnis say his apartments are in a state of disrepair, yet evictions are filed quickly and repeatedly.
Shacobreay Hardwell said she works three jobs.
On weekends, as a server at Cracker Barrel.
Most weeknights, as a server at Red Lobster.
The night shift, as a home health aide.
But some months, the $2.13 an hour plus tips from serving and $11.25 an hour from the home health aide job aren’t enough to pay rent on time.
Or, sometimes, her paychecks don’t line up to the day she needs to pay it.
Or, she needs to pay her electric bill, or for an Uber to get to work, or for groceries for her two kids – and rent isn’t the first priority.
Whatever the case, Hardwell paid her $695 rent late at least seven times in 2022. And seven times, she had an eviction filed against her by Magnolia Woods Apartments LLC – and was charged an additional $200 fee to reinstate her lease.
“I’m suffering from depression and anxiety because of it,” Hardwell said. “… I’m trying to figure out how to come up with all of this money, but it’s very insane. I’m suffering horribly because of this.”
Between her jobs, her kids and getting around the city without a car, Hardwell said she can barely afford time to sleep to improve her mental health. But she still lives in the apartment. Every time an eviction is filed, she said, she always manages to come up with a way to pay her rent, eventually.
Magnolia Woods, near 13th and West, is registered to Lew McGinnis, as are more than a dozen other apartment complexes in Wichita. McGinnis owns Eucalyptus Real Estate, an Oklahoma City-based property management company.
An analysis by KMUW found that LLCs registered to McGinnis filed about one-quarter of the nearly 6,000 evictions in Sedgwick County in 2022.
An eviction filed in court does not mean a tenant has to leave the property, but it’s the first step in the process of removing them.
Meredith Monaco, a manager with McGinnis’ real estate company, said a multitude of factors contribute to the high number of eviction filings: the company files every month, doesn’t require tenant credit checks and owns a lot of large multifamily apartment properties in Wichita. One apartment building, Water’s Edge, has 584 units.
Monaco said she doesn’t know how many total units the company owns.
“We don’t want to be evicting anybody,” Monaco said. “But at the end of the day, there’s just decisions that have to be made to make sure that the payments come in and we can pay our employees and our maintenance people and the supplies.”
The vast majority of evictions the company files are for nonpayment of rent, according to Charles Hill, a Wichita lawyer with Eucalyptus Real Estate.
Evictions and McGinnis
Compared to the rest of the state, Sedgwick County stands out in the number of evictions filed. A 2021 report found one-third of all Kansas evictions took place in Sedgwick County, despite housing less than one-fifth of the state’s residents.
In Sedgwick County, McGinnis’ LLCs loom as major evictors. In 2022, eight of the 10 plaintiffs that filed the most evictions in Sedgwick County were LLCs registered to McGinnis.
Monaco said tenants have until the third of the month to pay rent on time. The company then notifies tenants who haven’t paid rent that they have three more days to do so before they could be subject to an eviction. Evictions are typically filed after the 10th of the month on tenants who owe at least $500 in rent, Monaco said.
If the tenant pays rent at any point, the eviction case is dismissed.
Monaco said property managers try to inform tenants who are behind on rent about social service agencies that can help, like Catholic Charities or Center of Hope.
“Those agencies will move faster to get them help if they know that they have an eviction coming,” Monaco said. “Sometimes the agencies get backlogged, and we’ve seen that they react quicker if the eviction is there.”
The frequent evictions can weigh heavily on tenants. For four years, Starlet De La Rosa lived at Holly Park apartments near Harry and Edgemoor, which are registered to McGinnis. She said she would sometimes get eviction notices on her door even when she had paid rent on time or early.
“It gave me anxiety,” De La Rosa said. “I work from home and … every lunch break, every 15- minute break … I would have to get up and I would go look on my door, my front door and my back door, just to make sure that there wasn’t any eviction notice on my door.
“Because I didn’t want my child to ever see that … no mother wants their child to come home and see that they’re going to be evicted.”
De La Rosa moved out in December 2022. She said the evictions filed against her prevented her from getting a loan that she needed when moving her son into college.
“One of the major harms of a filing, even if it doesn’t lead to an eviction, is that it is a stain on a tenant’s record forever,” said Adam Chapnik, a research specialist at Princeton University’s Eviction Lab. “It affects the likelihood of getting credit. … It affects their likelihood of finding an apartment in the future.”
Other tenants said quickly-filed evictions can upend their lives when something goes awry – like getting sick.
Makayla Brody said she came down with a respiratory infection last winter, eventually ending up in the hospital. Missing work meant she couldn’t clock the hours she needed to pay rent.
On Dec. 14, Magnolia Woods Apartments filed an eviction against her.
“I broke down completely,” Brody said. “I was sitting there, I was like, ‘What am I going to do? I’m sick. I can’t go back to work. What am I going to do?’ ”
Hill, the lawyer for Eucalyptus Real Estate, said that the situation was sad, but the company’s obligation is to collect rent on time.
“We are not a social service agency,” Hill said.
Poor housing conditions
Many of McGinnis’ tenants said the hasty and repeated eviction filings frustrate them because of how slowly the landlord addresses maintenance work.
Around Hardwell’s home, she pointed out several concerns: a hole underneath her sink that she worries could let in bugs or vermin; a front-door lock that’s been loose ever since the fire department had to kick in apartment doors after a nearby fire.
“If anybody wanted to break into my house, all they’d have to do was kick the door handle out,” Hardwell said. “All of this stuff, they are aware of. It’s just not being fixed.
“But I have to go to court every month. … And I practically got to show up to beg you to stay in my apartment. That makes no sense.”
Other tenants who spoke with KMUW repeated similar frustrations – mold in the building, broken dishwashers, mice infestations.
Lydia Ehrmann said she worked as a property manager in 2019 for one of McGinnis’ apartment complexes, 21W near 21st and Oliver. She said she felt she was given an impossible task: keep tenants happy but without spending any money on the property to do so.
“There were units I didn’t feel comfortable moving people into, but I didn’t have a choice,” Ehrmann said.
She said she witnessed a unit flooded with feces. If there was mold, they painted over it.
“That company really just cares about money,” Ehrmann said.
Monaco said that sentiment was inaccurate and added that ensuring that tenants have safe units in good condition is part of the company’s business model. Each property also has a maintenance person on staff and an emergency maintenance line, Monaco said.
Media outlets across Wichita have reported issues at properties owned by McGinnis:
- In 2020, residents complained to KAKE News of the stench of sewage at Kingsborough Apartments.
- In 2021, residents at Water’s Edge apartments told KAKE that their landlord would not repair water damage to the units.
- In 2022, residents worried about pest issues in Water’s Edge apartments in a Wichita Eagle article.
- This May, KAKE investigated a practice at Hardwell’s complex – Magnolia Woods – for telling tenants they would receive $20 off rent if they gave the property a five-star review.
The complaints extend to McGinnis’ apartments across the state. In Emporia, where McGinnis owns at least five properties, some of his tenants organized a Facebook group in 2019 because of their landlord’s unwillingness to respond to maintenance issues.
Destiny Joy Farr organized the group in Emporia. When she lived in one of McGinnis’ apartments, she said she kept requesting that the landlord fix their air conditioning unit.
“Our apartment was getting to 90s,” Farr said. “One day, it actually got to 99. … And that was when we started to figure out that it was really unsafe for us to be there because they were not going to accommodate us for our basic needs.”
Fees, fees – and more fees
In the past year, Hardwell said she frequently had to pay $200 more than her monthly rent. She said that’s because the landlord charged a fee to stay in her apartment once an eviction was filed.
Monaco said the company issues the fee because late rent is a breach of the lease. The landlord does not have to legally accept rent from a tenant who pays after the three-day notice period has passed, she added. If a tenant wants to remain in the unit, they have to pay the $200.
“The alternative would be to just stop accepting their rent and make them move somewhere,” Monaco said. “And is that a better solution? I don’t know.”
Hardwell said the fee typically made it more difficult for her to pay the next month’s rent on time. That put her in a cycle of continuously paying late, getting an eviction notice and paying another $200 fee.
Three other former and current tenants of McGinnis also said the $200 fee they had to pay after an eviction was filed was a major burden. De La Rosa said she felt the frequent eviction notices she received on her door were used to get her to pay $200.
“Because I would pay it, I would get scared … and I’ll just pay the $200,” De La Rosa said. “I’m thinking that, ‘OK, it’s going to stop the process.’ ”
Chapnik, the researcher at Princeton, said he has found that landlords, especially those in low-income and Black communities, repeatedly file evictions against the same tenant over and over again.
“They’re doing that in order to increase their profits by charging late fees and filing fees,” Chapnik said.
“When you have a large number of renters who are low income, you’re often going to be faced with tenants who are missing their rent deadlines. And so if you want to be able to have profits from the landlord’s perspective, the way to do it is to get that money from these kinds of late fee schedules.”
Monaco said it’s industry-standard to charge late fees and reinstatement fees, no matter the price point at which landlords are renting.
Despite the continuous eviction filings, Hardwell has managed to stay in the apartment as of May. But the constant evictions have taken a major toll on her mental state. At one point this spring, she checked herself into COMCARE, Sedgwick County’s mental health provider.
“I’m more concerned with me and my kids being out on the street,” Hardwell said. “It’s been weighing on me.”
Data collection and cleaning for this story was done in partnership with Richard Ruth, president of Wichita Independent Neighborhoods (WIN).
Celia Hack is a general assignment reporter for KMUW. Before KMUW, she worked at The Wichita Beacon covering local government and as a freelancer for The Shawnee Mission Post and the Kansas Leadership Center’s The Journal. She is originally from Westwood, Kansas, but Wichita is her home now.
This article was republished here with the permission of: KMUW