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Archive for Sunday, July 31, 1994

PERSISTENCE AT CITY HALL PAYS OFF

July 31, 1994

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A Lawrence apartment dweller learns complexities of landlord-tenant relations firsthand.

Cynthia Weeks woke to a nightmare in Apartment 2.

At 6:45 a.m. during a September rain, she was swept from slumber by the sound of rushing water.

Water was coming from walls, the ceiling, door jambs and the ceiling fan. It doused a telephone, causing it to chirp repeatedly.

The culprit: Workers hired by the landlord to reroof the apartment house at 314 W. 14th tore off old roofing material and quit for the day without covering the exposed interior. It rained that night.

Weeks deemed the water-soaked apartment uninhabitable but discovered that convincing her landlord, Doug Compton of Lawrence, to break their lease agreement was her worst nightmare.

"It was an ugly situation. I couldn't live under those conditions," Weeks said.

The Compton-Weeks situation was a typical landlord-tenant dispute -- except it brought city hall into play.

Compton owns First Management, a real estate company. He has more than 500 rental units in Nebraska and Kansas, including 150 in Lawrence.

"I've learned since being in this business that there are two sides to every story," Compton said. "There's always going to be somebody who's not happy."

"We didn't ask for the roof to leak and ruin her stuff," said Compton, a Lawrence city commissioner.

Compton, who sold the apartment house in March, said he wasn't proud of the property. But Apartment 2 was rented to Weeks "as is," meaning she accepted blemishes in exchange for lower rent.

On Sept. 22, 1992, four days before the early-morning fiasco, Weeks complained to the city about the apartment's condition.

A city inspector documented four violations of Lawrence's minimum housing code in the apartment, including the leaky roof. He also identified six maintenance items that needed to be addressed.

Three days after the indoor flood, Weeks again turned to city hall. An inspector issued a second report Sept. 30 that detailed more code violations.

Although the roof was eventually repaired, First Management fought Weeks' attempt to break the lease.

"The city's minimum codes don't ... assure you that you're going to get a pretty place," Compton said.

Weeks persevered.

"In the end, I got out. But it was frustrating that Mr. Compton wouldn't resolve problems without legal notices," she said.

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