Correction: A prior version of this story referred to the city as Kansas City, KS. The proper city is Kansas City, MO.
UPDATE: A Platte County judge ruled on Feb. 28 that Kansas City, MO must pay members of the class-action lawsuit involving waste collection services $10.2 million in damages, plus attorneys fees, as reported by the Kansas City Star. The city is also required to pay $2,846 per day until it is in compliance.
Circuit Judge James Van Amburg ruled that the city "knowingly, intentionally and deliberately" decided not to follow the terms of a 1976 order requiring rebate payments be made to multi-family buildings with seven or more units. This situation became more complex after the City Council voted to suspend those payments due to budgetary constraints in 2010 and one apartment association successfully sued to continue receiving the payments in 2015. One of the main factors in this latest ruling was that the city acted without legal approval to suspend the payments.
Kansas City's local government plans to appeal the ruling, citing budgetary and practical concerns. The city's position is that because single-family homeowners pay an earnings tax, which condominium and apartment owners do not, they are entitled to free collection services. The city also limits each household to two bags per week, which it says would be impossible to enforce in large multi-family buildings.
- Several hundred apartment and condo owners are suing Kansas City in a class-action lawsuit over whether they're entitled to rebates for paying taxes but not receiving city collection service. If successful, the plaintiffs could receive up to $10 million in back payments and an additional $7 million going forward, as reported by The Kansas City Star.
- In 1976, a Platte County judge decided that the city should provide tax rebates to buildings with seven or more units to pay for their collection services, though the City Council decided to stop those payments in 2010 due to budget limitations. Yet one major group of apartment owners threatened to sue at the time and have already been receiving annual rebates, which makes this latest case more complex.
- Testimony started on Dec. 19 and the trial is expected to end on Dec. 21. Both sides are seen as likely to appeal the decision regardless of the outcome.
City attorneys dispute the validity of the 1976 order, especially since none of the current plaintiffs were part of the original lawsuit and few were even in business then. They also say that because the city's collection service has evolved to include curbside recycling, yard waste collection and bulk item collection since then - which isn't the case at some apartment buildings - the owners aren't entitled to a rebate.
Lawsuits from real estate owners have been relatively common this year, though for other reasons. Over the summer, a group of landlords sued Oakland, CA because the city's collection costs allegedly exceeded the value of the service. In August, a New Jersey condo association was unsuccessful in its effort to make the local municipality pay for their dumpsters. Recently, a landlord in Scranton, PA sued the city for allegedly using annual collection fees for things other than collection costs.
This is one of many reasons that multi-unit recycling remains one of the more complicated residential operations for the industry. In some cases cities may not offer it, while in other cases landlords may not be sending tenants' waste to the right places. Increasing diversion rates will require new ways of dealing with these multi-unit properties that can engage residents and make landlords feel like the price they're paying is fair.