Heartland News I-Team Special Report: Rental Rights - KFVS12 News & Weather Cape Girardeau, Carbondale, Poplar Bluff

Heartland News I-Team Special Report: Rental Rights

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One federal watch dog group calls it a disturbing trend - landlords in Cape Girardeau discriminating against families.

Do they not know the law, or are they setting their own standards at the expense of young children?

It's a question I began asking after a mom of two contacted me on Facebook to say she learned one local landlord only allows one child in a two bedroom apartment.

Her concerns and our investigation led the Equal Housing Opportunity Council to file a violation Tuesday with the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development against Smith Properties manager Dalton Wyatt.

I tracked Wyatt down later that afternoon to hand him a copy of the complaint.

"You need to talk to the owner, Mike Smith," Wyatt told me.

"I do need to talk to Mike Smith, you're right," I replied. "But since your name is on this, I'm giving this to you."

The complaint comes two weeks after a young mother of two started looking for an apartment to rent in Cape Girardeau.

"I actually saw a sign in the apartment yard, so I tried to contact that number," the mom I'll call Amber told me.

Surprised when she couldn't leave a message, she turned to an online ad for the same building that included a cell number.

She got a man on the other line I identified through both numbers as Dalton Wyatt with Smith Properties. She says he told her about a two bedroom apartment for rent here at 2843 Whitener.

"He gave me the details, rental price, and what that price included for the property, stated there were no pets allowed and also only one child," Amber recalled.

"Did you raise the question of children, or did he bring up that subject to you?" I asked.

"He brought the subject up to me. I never stated that I had children nor did I ask if children were allowed."

Amber says she recalled learning about the Fair Housing Act in college and looked it up online. The Act specifically states a landlord may not discriminate against families with children. HUD believes allowing at least two persons per bedroom is reasonable under the Act.

"In this day and age, I was very surprised," she tells me.

After meeting with Amber, I asked one of my producers to call Wyatt at the same number and ask about apartments for rent. He also told her about the two bedroom apartment on Whitener.

"No pets," he told her. "And we allow one child to a two bedroom. We don't allow no child to a one bedroom."

When she asked for his name, all he would tell her is he worked for Smith Properties.

That information took me to St. Louis to The Equal Housing and Opportunity Council.

I met with Executive Director Chaplain Will Jordan. After I told him about Amber's story and our call, Jordan's office made two test calls to Smith Properties.

"Testing concluded that the respondent failed to rent a one-bedroom to a parent and a child," Jordan read to me from the complaint his office filed.

Jordan knows about rental issues in Cape Girardeau. In the spring of 2012, his office came there offering education, and investigating at the same time.

He says his testers found a disturbing trend.

"There is kind of an industry-wide standard of not renting to families with children in a one-bedroom," Jordan tells me.

He says the social service agencies often helping these families just assumed the landlords were following the law.

"They often have encountered it and there's nothing different that they've encountered and so they just service their clients based on that limited availability," Jordan explains.

Back in Cape Girardeau, Dalton Wyatt tells me he didn't know the practice violated federal law.

"I didn't know that, no. That's his rules."

"Those are his rules?" I ask. Wyatt nods.

"No child to a one bedroom. And one child to a two bedroom."

Wyatt offered to show me a copy of the Smith Properties Rental Agreement.

"How long have you been working for him?" I ask.

"Since 1986," he responds.

"And has that always been the rule?"

"Mmmhmm," he responds.

Only one child per two bedroom, I read off the sheet. Doesn't say anything about no kids to a one bedroom.

"Well, somewhere it does," he tells me.

After speaking to Wyatt, I contacted the owner of Smith Properties.

"Hi, is this Mike Smith?" I asked when a man answered. "Sir, this is Kathy Sweeney from Heartland News."

In that phone call, Mike Smith told me he didn't know he was violating the Federal Fair Housing Act, and would make changes immediately.

Mr. Smith declined my offer to share this information in an on-camera interview.

I'll follow this investigation and let you know what happens.

In the meantime, two other local landlords are headed to court later this year.

Bean Properties and Hall Rental Properties face family discrimination cases filed by the Missouri Commission on Human Rights.

The attorney representing both property owners, Al Spradling, tells me he will contest the claims made against his clients and allow a jury of their peers to decide the outcome.

Viewers can call the U.S. Department of Housing & Urban Development at 1-800-743-5323, to file a complaint of discrimination. A complaint may also be filed online by clicking on the link below:


If you think you've been discriminated against when trying to rent in Cape Girardeau or anywhere in the Heartland, I want to hear from you.

Email me at ksweeney@kfvs12.com or investigate@kfvs12.com.

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