By NADIA PFLAUM
If Dolores Royston had read this story, she might have known better than to rent her house at 6837 Bellefontaine Avenue to Richard Tolbert.
Tolbert -- the former City Council member, unsuccessful candidate for county executive and lone activist for saving the economically depressed Bannister Mall, now scheduled to become a soccer complex -- seemed to have nowhere else to stay when he and Royston drew up a lease agreement. For $200 a month, the lease stated, Tolbert could stay in the property, with the first two months free. He moved in last January. The property wasn't perfect -- Royston was installing new gutters in order to comply with city codes when Tolbert moved in -- but it didn't look like this:
(pictures after the jump).
A sign on the side of the house:
Views into the backyard:
There were two kittens playing in back and one cat peering from atop a mound of ... um, whatnot:
And some car parts:
These neon signs were posted all over:
And in case anyone dared to go inside:
Royston says she was getting complaints from the neighbors next door to the house, whose kids were reluctant to play outside because Tolbert's large barrels of water, left open to the sky, collected rain and became breeding grounds for mosquitos.
"I thought I was doing him a favor," says Royston, who claims Tolbert hasn't paid her any rent since August. "Then, when I looked around, he'd brought all that stuff out there, parked it across the yard. I asked him not to do it and to get all that junk out of there, and he hasn't done it. So the city got on him. They tagged his car [parked in the backyard]."
After city inspectors declared that the house was unfit for habitation because of the lack of running water and unsanitary conditions, they posted signs on the house declaring that no one was allowed on the porch or inside. On Saturday, October 18, police stopped by with Royston and found Tolbert inside, so they arrested him. Tolbert told the police he'd only stopped by the property to change clothes. Tolbert posted bail and was released.
Tolbert tells The Pitch that he's the victim in this situation. "One man's crap is another man's personal property," he insists, calling the mountains of debris "building materials."
"I'm really tired of this town," he says. "Everyone knows that I've been a target of the city of Kansas City for years because I complain bitterly about their boneheaded housing policies, I oppose their tax increases, and they've gone out of their way to retaliate against me and my property. So when they put me out -- you've documented it, OK? -- don't come whining and crying to me because I had to take my stuff and store it somewhere that wasn't the ideal situation. I make no apologies. I'm trying to move it out as fast as I can, I covered it up as best I could out of regard to the neighbors, but there are so many vacant houses around here, there aren't that many neighbors to complain. And mine ain't the only house that has outside storage. This ain't Ward Parkway."
Ward Parkway it certainly is not. When Tolbert says his is not the worst on the block, it's sadly true -- it seems almost every other property on Bellefontaine is abandoned, blighted or already torn down. But as usual, Tolbert is in the middle of the mess.
"He was supposed to be my friend," Royston says. "Friends, I thought, stuck together, and I knew he wouldn't do me like that. And he sure did. Did you see all that junk, all the way back? Well, that's what he's done for me."