St Louis Real Estate – Bellefontaine Neighbors Lawsuit Update

Dennis Norman

Appellant Says Bellefontaine Ordinance is Unconstitutional but City Inspector Still Enforcing It

Last month I did a post about a decision handed down by the Missouri Court of Appeals-Eastern District that was a significant victory for St. Louis property owners by striking down part of an ordinance that violates our property rights as well as our First Amendment Rights to free speech.

Unfortunately, it appears no one told the City of Bellefontaine Neighbors they lost the case, or if they did, some may be choosing to ignore the court’s decision.  I say this because I heard that Mark Scatizzi, the local REALTOR® who brought the appeal after being cited and fined for failing to have a home inspected and obtain a certificate of compliance from the City prior to marketing the property for sale, and the second being for displaying a “for-sale” sign in the window, again without obtaining the inspection first, had another run-in with the City of Bellefontaine and it seems nothing has changed.

This time involves a house Scatizzi has listed that is owned by a bank.   Scatizzi said a Bellefontaine Inspector, Ted Stocker, told Scatizzi’s property manager that they could not advertise the home without first getting a property inspection.  Scatizzi’s property manager then referenced the recent appellant court decision (which said that part of the ordinance was unconstitutional) and the inspector’s response was “the decision did not pertain to him and that he would continue to enforce the city ordinance.”  Shortly thereafter, Scattiz received two notices from the city indicating he would need to have the house inspected prior to advertising it for sale.  Interesting thing is, according to Scatizzi, this all happened even prior to him actually listing the home for sale.

This morning I contacted the City of Bellefontaine Neighbors again to inquire about the status of their ordinance.  I was referred to the Mayor, Marty Rudloff.  When I referenced the appellant court decision in the case “City of Bellefontaine Neighbors vs Mark Scatizzi” he said he had no idea what I was talking about, “it must be an old case”.  I told the Mayor that  the appeals court decision came at the end of January and that the decision indicated part of their ordinance requiring a property inspection before advertising a property for sale was unconstitutional.  Mayor Rudloff said even though he was not aware of the case that if that is what the appellant court said the City would abide by it.  I then told him the story about his inspector Ted Stocker and he said what Stocker said was not the city’s position and he would look into it.

 I had this post completed then decided in fairness to the inspector, Ted Stocker, I would try to reach him again.  I had called this morning but he was out.  This time when I called I was able to talk with Mr. Stocker, the building inspector.  Mr. Stocker told me that he was aware of the appellant court decision (I’m not sure how he knows but not the mayor?) he denied the quote that was attributed to him above by Scatizziand and said that, since receiving the notice from their attorney about the court decision he has “stopped pulling for sale signs” from yards.  He said that now, when he sees a for sale sign in a yard, he makes note of it and comes sends the property owner a letter advising them that they must obtain a compliance inspection before anyone new occupies the property.  So I said, “basically a courtesy letter?” and he said that was correct.  I then said “so in other words the city is not enforcing the part of the ordinance that requires a property owner to obtain an inspection PRIOR to advertising their property for sale” and Mr. Stocker said that was correct. 

Now I’m Confused…

We have the mayor that has no knowledge of the lawsuit nor the decision of the appeals court but stresses the city would comply with the court’s ruling.

We have an inspector that DOES have knowledge of the lawsuit and the appellant court decision and says they are not enforcing the ordinance.

But then, I receive two letters from Mark Scatizzi which back up what he has told me.  Both letters are on letterhead of the City of Bellefontaine neighbors and are from the Building Department.  The first letter is dated February 22, 2010 (the appellant court decision was on January 26, 2010) and states that “The City of Bellefontaine Neighbors has a Property Maintenance Code which requires that a house inspetion be completed before properties are offered for sale, rental or changing tenants.”  The letter then goes on to add “After the Inspection is completed, the property may be placed on the market.”  Hmm, certainly sounds like they are still enforcing the ordinance…the letter does not say what Mr. Stocker told me the letters say.  The second letter is dated March 2, 2010 and while, instead of appearing to be a “form letter” like the first letter, still says the same thing, that “The City of Bellefontaine Neighbors has a Property Maintenance Code which requires that a House Inspection be completed before properties are offered for sale, rental or the changing of tenants.”

I believe that Steve Murphy, Mark Scatizzi’s attorney, has been in contact with the attorney for the City of Bellefontaine Neighbors. 

Ah, the fun never ends.

 

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