KANSAS CITY, Mo. — The last couple of years have been stressful for neighbors living in a typically peaceful slice of Kansas City’s Northland known as Little Village.
“It’s incredibly frustrating,” said Carrie Redding, the president of the neighborhood association. She’s talking about a neighbor who has trash piled on every side of his house. Some of it has been sitting there for so long that you can smell it from across the street.
“We’ve repeatedly reported it to codes, to 311, to the city, to the council people,” Redding said. “At this point we are going two years with no movement whatsoever.”
Redding moved to the neighborhood 15 years ago because it’s quiet streets and well-tended homes reminded her of the small town in western Kansas where she grew up. She never expected to be battling a mountain of trash. But what she and others in Little Village are fighting is similar to battles all across Kansas City waged by good neighbors trying to get bad neighbors to take care of their property.
Neighbor Roger Neu has also complained to the city. He has lived in Little Village for 55 years. The breaking point, he said, came when the man living inside the trash-filled home pitched a tent in the middle of the neighborhood green space which is usually reserved for ice cream socials. He told people he had decided to live outside because there were too many insects inside his home.
“He was out there for about two days,” Neu said. Police finally came by and picked the tent up and dropped it off in his driveway.”
The neighbor causing all the controversy is Craig Harris. Harris doesn’t own the house at 4900 NE Park Lane. It’s still in the name of his parents who are both deceased. FOX4 Problem Solvers tried calling and emailing Harris to get his side of this story, but we never heard back.
Neighbors told Problem Solvers that for months they tried to help Harris clean up his property, but they say Harris was never interested.
Kansas City officials have not ignored the problem. Harris has been cited six times this year alone for code violations. But he has never shown up to court. Police can’t arrest him for failure to appear because code violations are not considered a criminal matter – leading to more neighborhood frustration.
“I understand there’s a process,” Redding said. “This process obviously doesn’t work the way it is set up now. Something needs to change. No one should have to live next door to that for two years with the constant smell, bugs, rodents and everything else that is going on.”
Problem Solvers asked the city on a Friday what more could be done. The following Monday, the city had a crew at Harris’ home to clean up all the trash outside. If Harris was home, he never answered the door.
“We got a search warrant from a judge so we could actually come on property and clean it because, we get it, neighbors are tired,” said city spokesman John Baccala. “We’re tired. Something has to be done and that’s what we are doing today.”
It took several hours, but the city carted away two dump truck loads of trash as approving neighbors looked on. Harris will be billed by the city for the clean up.
“We’re thrilled,” Bowser said. “At least something is being done.”
The city also shut off water to the home. Harris hadn’t paid the bill since March and owed nearly $3,000. No water gives the city the leverage it needs to evict Harris. It’s illegal to live in a home without water. But to evict Harris, the city must first find the elusive Harris living inside.
Problem Solvers hoped this story was nearly solved when it took an absurd twist. Shortly after the city cleaned up his home, Harris was arrested in Ray County on charges of assaulting a police officer and driving under the influence. While he awaits trial, he was sentenced to house arrest – at the same house that the city is hoping to evict him from and where he can no longer legally live.
Problem Solvers called the Ray County prosecutor to let her know that house arrest is probably not a good idea. The prosecutor is now talking to the judge.
The good news is that for the last several weeks no one has seen Harris and no new trash is appearing outside the house. If it does, the city tells us it will be ready to act.
“There are a lot of other legal avenues we can take all the way up to receivership,” said Baccala.
In the meantime, all neighbors can do is keep reporting violations and hoping for the best.