The Joplin Globe, Joplin, MO

February 27, 2013

Webb City shuts off water to apartment building; tenants will need to find new homes, city official says

By Ryan Richardson

WEBB CITY, Mo. — Danielle Foley has been without running water since Monday.

She may soon be without a home.

Foley, who has two children, has lived in an apartment building at 110 W. First St. for four months.

Other tenants in the building also will need to find a new place to stay after city officials shut off water to the building following two months of nonpayment from the owner. They say no one has come forward to take responsibility for the building.

Interim City Administrator Carl Francis said Tuesday that the city is encouraging people to leave their apartments and find other housing.

“They have to look at moving out. That’s the best advice I can give,” he said. “There isn’t anyone stepping up for the building, and we can’t expect anyone to at this point.”

Francis said the city shut off the water after attempts to find a financially responsible party for the building were not successful. He said whoever is responsible for the building already owes $2,000 to the city for its municipal water service.

Francis said Kenneth Mark Wickstrom, who lists his address in court documents as 4 S. Main St., Webb City, was the last known owner of the building.

“We have talked to Kenneth Wickstrom, and he says that he does not own the property anymore and that we should contact his attorney for any matter relating to that property,” Francis said. “We have been unsuccessful in locating anyone who can claim the building or at least claim financial responsibility for the building.”

The Globe’s multiple attempts to reach Wickstrom at personal and business numbers have been unsuccessful. There also was no answer Wednesday at the address listed in court documents. Attempts to reach the attorney representing Wickstrom in his divorce case also were unsuccessful.

Francis said there were 10 known recent tenants in the building, but several have moved out over the past month. He said he believes some people may be illegally living in the building.

“We have no control on what goes on inside the building unless it becomes dangerous or unhealthy,” Francis said. “I’ve heard people just went in because there are open apartments and there isn’t an owner there to do anything about it.”

Earlier problem

In December, the city faced a similar problem at another property previously owned by Wickstrom.

Natural gas service at 20 S. Main St. was shut off by Missouri Gas Energy. Many of the residents in the building went without heat and hot water and had to bundle up in layers of clothing as temperatures dipped. It was cold enough in some apartments that the occupants could see their breath.

Francis and some of the tenants said Wickstrom claimed he was no longer the owner of the building. The city worked with a mortgage holder and MGE in an effort to restore heat to the building.

City officials eventually got a court order from the municipal judge allowing the Fire Department to turn the gas back on, and Francis at the time said the city might put a tax lien on that property to recover its costs. He said the city was owed about $200 for the cost of reconnecting the gas.

Francis said the building at 20 S. Main St. is “fine right now because of the tenants and financial institutions (that) have stepped up to take responsibility.”

“This is not the case here (at 110 W. First St.),” he said. “From our understanding, no one has paid or received rent there for some time, and no one has stepped up to figure this situation out. We did not have a choice in this situation.”

Worsening conditions

Foley said conditions in her apartment building have deteriorated in recent months.

“Every empty apartment on the ground floor has been broken into,” she said. “Someone tried to get into our apartment, too, but we were home. My neighbor is disabled, and I have a 2- and a 4-year-old. What are we supposed to do if someone tries to get in?”

She said that after moving into the building in mid-October, she paid two months of rent in addition to a prorated month of rent. As of December, the apartments had new tenants moving in. She said her rent is $600 per month plus electricity, with water taken care of by the owner of the building. She said she hasn’t paid the last two months’ rent because she doesn’t have anywhere to send it.

“All of the numbers we had for Wickstrom are disconnected,” Foley said. “I just want answers on what we need to do at this point.”