Shortly after they moved into their home in eastern Lawrence, Breeann Bass and her family noticed that a few things about their new neighborhood didn’t seem quite right.
One night they came home to find their Black Lives Matter flag lying on the ground. Flags on nearby homes were still up, but the family thought maybe the wind had knocked it down.
On another occasion, they found their rainbow flag on the ground — and this time, the flag holder was damaged. The problem obviously was not the wind.
Those two incidents, packed with not-so-subliminal messages, illustrate what Bass and her fiancée, Kalisha Peterson, believe to be the problem. Their landlord at the Woods on 19th, Brian Stultz, agrees: Bass and Peterson appear to be the subjects of a campaign of discrimination and harassment by other residents and the neighborhood homeowners’ association.
Over the past several months, the two women of color have documented troubling interactions between people in the neighborhood, themselves and their four kids. They’ve been concerned enough that they’ve installed multiple surveillance cameras and a security spotlight around their home, which is near 19th and Delaware streets.
They and Stultz have also documented — with photos and videos — discrepancies in the way certain HOA covenants are being enforced against Bass and Peterson, but not against their neighbors.
Last week, Bass received a letter dated May 3 from Brad Finkeldei, the attorney representing the HOA, demanding that she cease “operating a commercial business” from the home.
“It is the duty and obligation of the Board of Directors of the Woods to enforce the Declarations and Covenants and Restrictions which govern the neighborhood,” the letter states. “The Board can seek an injunction and collect attorney fees should litigation be necessary.”
But Bass said she doesn’t run a business at her home. She sometimes does her friends’ and family members’ hair when they visit, but she doesn’t get paid for it, and she does not have a business registered with the state.
Bass’ next-door neighbor, however, does appear to have a business operating from his home, registered as an LLC with the state. That neighbor is John Rodgers, the HOA president.
Records from the Kansas secretary of state’s office show Rodgers’ Villo Woods Court home as the registered office and mailing address for Totes & More LLC. And an online listing for the company states that “All items are handmade by me in my pet-free, non-smoking home in Lawrence, Kansas.”
Rodgers did not respond to the Times’ email or voicemail seeking comment for this article.
Reached via email Friday, Finkeldei (who is also mayor of Lawrence) confirmed that he had not sent a similar letter about home businesses to any other residents in the HOA, Rodgers included. However, Finkeldei said there was no exception in the covenants for the board president’s home.
Stultz said the previous tenant of Bass’ home, which is the only one he owns in the neighborhood, operated a business there and never had a problem.
“Why they’re discriminating against her (Bass) — I’m not in their heads. I can’t tell you why,” Stultz said.
“But it doesn’t even matter. It’s discrimination by definition,” he said, for the HOA to try to enforce a law against one person without enforcing it against one of its own officials.
The letter complaining about a business she’s not running may be the most blatant example of Bass’ family being treated differently from others in the neighborhood. But that’s not one of the big worries keeping Bass awake at night.
It started with small things. After they moved in in July, they noticed neighbors parking in the spot directly in front of their home, Bass said.
“We witnessed neighbors park there and walk all the way down the block to homes which had viable spots available directly in front,” Bass wrote in documentation she provided to the Times. “We felt like it was an intentional attempt to block us and our visitors from parking there, and this was one of the first things we noticed as far as being treated differently.”
Stultz said the HOA will call, email and text him when issues arise. The HOA has contacted Stultz over things like an extra bag of trash sitting next to Bass’ trash can, but the landlord and Bass said they’ve documented another neighbor’s trash sitting out with loose bags for multiple days.
Bass’ visitors who parked in the street also have had notes duct-taped to their vehicles, including two — one replaced after the vehicle owner removed the first one — informing the owner that the “disabled vehicle” would be towed if it wasn’t moved. Because of the cold weather, Bass said, a “donut” spare tire on the car had deflated, and it was difficult to find a replacement tire on New Year’s Day.
In February, while they were still in the process of taking down their Christmas lights — late, Bass admits — Bass was notified that she needed to put away a string of lights that they’d set briefly on the front porch.
But most concerning to Bass are the interactions that have made her afraid to let her kids go outside to play unless she’s directly watching them.
Back in September, Bass said, her sons were outside playing when a couple of other kids from the neighborhood told them that “we can’t play with people who look like you” – although the kids told Bass’ nieces, who are biracial but look white, that they were “OK.” Bass said she tried to talk to the kids’ parents, but they never answered the door.
Later that month, Bass said, someone drove by while her son was climbing a tree and shouted at him to stop climbing trees, startling him so badly that he fell and hit the ground, bruising his face.
There have been other disputes, and Bass said other adults in the neighborhood have yelled at her kids multiple times. For the past month or so, she’s been escorting them to and from school, when she can, because they’re afraid to walk in the neighborhood.
And last week, Bass said the glass table on their back patio was broken and she doesn’t know how it happened. She also noticed that one neighbor has a security camera pointing straight at her house.
“We are undoubtedly being targeted, and I’m at a loss as to what to do,” Bass said.
Stultz said he, too, has walked around the neighborhood to document the covenants that are being enforced against Bass but not against others. He said previous tenants never had any problems with complaints about their kids, but the neighbors are “yelling and screaming at Bree’s kids as if they were second-class citizens.”
Stultz said he’s planning to file a complaint with the Department of Housing and Urban Development soon.
And from a business perspective, Stultz says he’s in a tough place, though he said his tenants’ problems are “a thousand times worse.” He told Bass he would let her out of her lease, if it comes to that, because he wants to be fair. But as a businessman, he’s asking himself how he can rent the house to a new tenant.
He would have no problem showing the home to People of Color or a same-sex couple, but “Do I tell them, ‘Hey, but you know I’m probably not going to let you live here, and it’s for your own good’? I can’t say that — that’s discriminatory on my part, right? — and yet, it’s the right thing to say because the neighbors are just going to badger them until they hate living there. And then I have to let them out of their lease again.”
— Note: This article was updated at 12:08 p.m. Saturday, May 15, to clarify that Bass’ house is the only one Stultz owns in the neighborhood.