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St Louis County Residential Rental Property Licensing Ordinance Tramples Property Rights

A  residential rental property licensing ordinance has been proposed in St Louis County by Councilman Michael O’Mara which would  prohibit an owner of residential property in unincorporated St. Louis County from renting or leasing their property without first paying a fee and obtaining a residential rental license.   The bill, which has been kept relatively quiet and is impossible to find on the website for the St Louis County Council other than listed on the agenda, will most likely be passed at the meeting of the St Louis County Council tomorrow evening.

While there are several municipalities in the St Louis area that currently require some sort of licensing or registration of rental property, and the issue of whether that is an infringement of property rights or not, is a topic I’m not going to address today.  Instead, I will just focus on some of the things in this proposed legislation that I feel, in my humble opinion, are egregious violations of property owner’s private property rights.  The bill, a draft of which can be read here, is bad in many ways, however below are the parts that violate private property rights the most. followed by my comments on each section: 

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  • 852.200 – 1. “No person without a residential rental license issued pursuant to this Code shall permit occupancy of or offer for rent or lease, residential rental property to any person as principal occupant who is either: i. not the record owner of the property or; ii. approved as an exempt occupant pursuant to this Code.  2.  Upon the filing and approval of an exemption declaration pursuant to this Code, no residential rental license shall be required for non-owner occupancy of a parcel of residential rental property where the principal occupant(s) of such parcel are: (i) Beneficial owners of the property or; (ii)  Related to the owner of the property within the second degree of consanguinity.”
    • This does not just apply to tenants but occupancy by anyone other than an owner or someone the director approves.
    • In (ii) it goes on to say who can occupy the property without owner getting a license.  An owner should be allowed to have a friend or relative stay in their property however,  this ordinance will require the owner to first pay a fee and obtain a landlord license.  There are exceptions; an owner can apply to the director and he can decide if it is ok to allow someone to stay in the owners home without paying rent and the owner not have to obtain a license (seems a little subjective) or, if the occupant is a relative, but then only up to the “second degree of consanguinity”.  Really?   So,  in other words, a property owner cannot allow their great grandfather, second cousin, or a friend stay in the property rent-free without and would be in violation of this ordinance if they don’t first pay for, and obtain a license or get an exemption from the director.
  • 825.350 -“Unless and until the annual application is filed by the owner and all fees due hereunder are paid in full, and all outstanding fines imposed by the St. Louis County Municipal Court for any housing, Property Maintenance or Building Code violations by such owner are paid in full, no residential rental license shall be issued to such owner nor shall any new occupancy permit be issued for the occupancy of any parcel of residential rental property of such owner. Failure to obtain and maintain a valid residential rental license shall constitute grounds for the revocation of all outstanding occupancy permits issued for any parcel of residential rental property of such owner.”
    • Look out tenants!  This section rips apart private property rights of landlords as well as the rights of tenants.  If an owner falls to obtain a license on one unit, or would lose the license for some reason,  all occupancy permits are revoked thereby immediately putting all the tenants of the owner in violation of occupancy permit ordinances (which have criminal penalties) and puts them out of a home even though they have done nothing wrong.
  • 825.450 – “The Director may suspend or revoke a license issued pursuant to this Code upon the grounds specified in this section. Notice of the suspension or revocation shall be provided in writing and served upon the owner by means reasonably calculated to provide actual notice to the owner. ( i.) A license may be suspended if property is found by the Director to be out of compliance with the Property Maintenance Code and corrections are not made to bring the property back into compliance within thirty (30) days from the date of notice of non-compliance. (ii.) A license may be suspended if an owner makes • material false statements on a license application or declaration for exemption;  or fails to report a change of occupancy of any property owned or managed for which a license under this Code has been issued. (iii.) In the exercise of sound discretion by the Director, a license may be suspended or revoked if the owner has been notified by the Director of three (3) or more acts by occupants of licensed residential rental property which constitute a public nuisance. ( iv.) A license may be suspended for conviction of a misdemeanor, felony or ordinance violation by the owner or by occupants occurring on or about licensed residential rental property.  (v.) A license may be revoked if the owner has more than two (2) license suspensions in any twelve (12) month timeframe.”
    •  Leaves it up to the Director to determine how to give a notice of suspension or revocation which is very subjective and could result in even a responsible landlord not receiving a notice because the director determined that posting a notice on the property was adequate rather than mailing, or serving notice upon, the owner at the owners mailing address.
    • (i.) – Allows for suspension of license (and as I mentioned above, revocation of occupancy permits of all tenants of that owner) for failure to make corrections within 30 days…often times weather does not permit this and additional time is given…for example, peeling exterior paint in November..usually inspections allow until spring, under the ordinance this could result in a suspension.
    • (iii.) This section makes the Landlord responsible for things well beyond his or her control….if a tenant commits 3 “public nuisances” then owner gets suspended or revoked?  While the landlord has some control over the tenant, landlords do not have police powers.  According to the ordinances cited, “interfering with a police officer” would be a public nuisance under this ordinance…so, how is a property owner suppose to stop a tenant from doing this?
    • (iv.)  This one has to have constitutional issues….a landlord loses the right to rent a property they own if a tenant is convicted of a misdemeanor “on or about” the property? Again, how is the landlord suppose to control this?  Most leases say that  a tenant is not to have illegal drugs on the property but the landlord has no way of knowing what they have…if they get busted for doing drugs the landlord shouldn’t be responsible…

As I said at the beginning, there is much more in the bill that is objectionable, but these are the highlights.  I should say that I am not an advocate for irresponsible property owners or disruptive tenants, however, I do believe there is a right way to handle issues without taking away, or violating, basic fundamental private property rights of owners and occupants.

If you don’t want to see this bill get passed, then I suggest you contact Michael O’Mara immediately and share your thoughts or, show up at the St Louis County Council meeting on Tuesday, April 8th and have your voice be heard on this ordinance.  

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