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St Louis Real Estate – Vacant Property Bill and It’s Affect on Property Rights

Dennis Norman

What do sex offenders and owners of vacant property have in common?

UPDATE: March 8, 2010 – I found out today the bill that was actually perfected last Friday was a floor substitute…Unfortunately the changes made to the bill were minor- they changed the public data base so that you have to enter a property address in order to look up the owners personal information (including phone number and email address) and they changed the wording to no longer make real estate agents and property managers responsible for property they don’t own.  So basically, just a little window dressing to try to appease the REALTORS(R)…The bill is still a bad….

UPDATE: March 5, 2010In spite of opposition to the bill by the St. Louis Association of REALTORS and others, the Board of Alderman perfected the bill today by a vote of 16-7.  The next steip is for the bill to get final approval by the Board of Alderman on March 12th.  Hopefully this can still be stopped. 

Well, if Kacie Starr Triplett, Alderwoman for the 6th ward of the City of St. Louis, has her way, then both will have their private information listed in a public, online database for the whole world to see.  The big difference is one such group is made up of felons convicted of some of the most despicable crimes short of murder one could commit, and the other group is made up of  a group of property owners that own a property that has not been occupied for 6 months and could have as little as one building code violation.  Hmm…

Triplett has sponsored a bill, Board Bill No. 322, which, if passed by the board of Alderman, would establish a “St. Louis Vacant Building Online Database for public access.”  The bill states “the property owner shall provide the property owner’s street address, phone number and email address.”  So, in a nutshell, if you are a property owner in the City of St. Louis and fall into this category, your personal contact information, including your phone number and email address, will be in a public database maintained by the City of St. Louis for all to see, just like convicted sex offenders.  Oh wait, no, now that I am reviewing the sex offender registry they only reveal the address, they don’t even have to give a phone number and email address! Not to mention the sex offenders ended up in that situation after being convicted, you ended up there just by owning property (and having as little as 1 outstanding building code violation).

Thinking you’ll just say NO?

So you say “it’s none of their business and I just won’t give them the info”…..whoa, not so fast, let me quote the penalty in Tripletts bill for failure to provide this personal information:

“any person found to be in violation of provision of Section Six of this ordinance (that is the section requiring the personal info for the data base) shall be subject to a fine of not more than five hundred dollars ($500.00) or to a term of imprisonment of not more than ninety days (90) or to both a fine and imprisonment.”

Did you catch the part about prison?  Yep, refuse to give them your unlisted phone number or email address and risk 90 days in city jail…fun.  What happens if you don’t have an email address?  I’m not sure…

There’s more….Lose your property over $400

If you fail to pay the fee for registering your property, which is $200 for every six-month period it is vacant, after one-year the fee becomes a lien and the city can foreclose.  So, you could lose your property over $400, just like someone in the city did in the past two months under the current vacant property ordinance (current law does not have the public database).

There’s still more…Are you a property manager or maintenance person? Read this

Under the “Vacant Building Maintenance” heading, the bill states:

“The owner of any building that has become vacant, and any person maintaining, operating or collecting rent for any building that has been determined vacant shall, within thirty (30) days, do the following:

1. Enclose and secure the building, as defined under the St. Louis City Revised Code Chapter 25.01.030, Section 118.3.1  All doors must be properly secured and windows on all floors of the building be properly secured;

2. Maintain the building in a secure and closed condition until the building is again occupied or until repair or completion of the building has been undertaken.”

 Wanna guess what the penalty is for failure to comply with the above?  You probably guessed same penalty as for failure to give the personal information?  Close….

“any person found to be in violation of provision of Section Seven of this ordinance  shall be subject to a fine of not more than five hundred dollars ($500.00) or to a term of imprisonment of not more than ninety days (90) or to both a fine and imprisonment.

Every day that a violation continues shall constitute a seperate and distinct offense

 Did you catch the “every day” part?  So, lets just say you are a property manager, or I guess maintenance man (I guess that is what she is referring to when she names people “maintaining” the property) or an owner and you have a vacant unit and fail, for one reason or another to properly secure the building in compliance with the codes (which is rather subjective, of course) for say 30 days; what maximum penalties are you facing under this new ordinance?  Let’s do the math:

  • Fine, $500 x 30 days = $15,000 total fine
  • Imprisonment, 90 days x 30 days=2,700 days imprisonment (7.5 years)

Is it just me, or does this seem harsh?

So what’s wrong with all this?

I know my diatribe is getting lengthy so I’m going to wrap things up with what I see as issues with this ordinance in bullet points below:

  • Invitation for theft – One problem property owners face in the city, particularly with vacant buildings, is theft and vandalism.  I have had many airconditioning units stolen just for the copper coils inside, plumbing ripped out of houses for the copper as well.  What more could a theif want?  An online database that shows him every vacant buidling in the city?  Stealing copper will be almost as easy as shopping at Wal-Mart.
  • Privacy issues – I don’t think most poeple would want their phone number and email address put online for anyone to access.
  • Lack of notice/due process– I’m very concerned about the city’s ability to turn this fee into a lien and foreclose on the property. 
  • FORGET GETTING A LOAN ON AN INVESTMENT PROPERTY – In my opinion, if this bill passes, I think it will be hard, if not IMPOSSIBLE, to get financing on an investment property in the city…reason being, Tripletts bill says after fees become delinquent for a year they become a lien and subject to foreclosure “in the same manner as delinquent real property taxes“… I’m not sure how a court is going to interpret this, but in the City a sale for back property taxes wipes out ALL liens, even senior liens (such as first deeds of trust)…by the wording of her bill I think the case could be made that the foreclosure on the liens wipes out senior liens as well….if that is the case lenders are going to be very concerned about lending money on a building that may end up being subject to vacant property registration…

I need to say, I am not defending derelict buildings or irresponsible property owners, I just don’t feel this is the way to deal with them.  Ordinances like this, in my opinion, assume you are guilty and treat you that way, plus trample on your rights.

If you don’t own property in the City you may think this doesn’t affect you, but that may be temporary.  Municipalities copy what is done in other municipalities all the time.  If this ordinance passes in the City of St. Louis I promise you it will appear in other places as well.  Perhaps where you live or own property.

In addition, speaking from experience, cities don’t usually stop with just one ordinance once they have forged new territory.  If the city gets this ordinance through and deems it a success in their eyes, you can bet they will start looking at other “problem areas” they can attack in the same way.  Many cities see rental property as a problem and claim tenants cause more calls to police, create more problems than homeowners, etc.  What if tenants are the next target?  How about a public data base showing the tenants name, phone number and email address?  Think about it.  Where does it stop?

 Tripletts bill has already been through a committee and is moving forward.  If you would like to voice your opinion on it I would suggest you contact her, or your alderman if you live in the city or perhaps Lewis Reed, the President of the Board of Alderman.  Their contact information is below:

Alfred Wessels, Jr            wesselsa@stlouiscity.com           13th Ward
Antonio French                 frencha@stlouiscity.com              21st Ward            
April Ford-Griffin              griffina@stlouiscity.com               5th Ward
Charles Quincy Troupe  troupec@stlouiscity.com              1st Ward
Craig Schmid                      schmidc@stlouiscity.com             20th Ward
Dionne Flowers                flowersd@stlouiscity.com            2nd Ward
Donna Baringer                 baringerd@stlouiscity.com          16th Ward
Frank Williamson              williamsonf@stlouiscity.com       26th ward
Fred Heitert                       heitertf@stlouiscity.com              12th Ward
Freeman Bosley, Sr.        bosleyf@stlouiscity.com               3rd Ward
Greg Carter                        carterg@stlouiscity.com               27th ward
Jeffrey Boyd                      boydj@stlouiscity.com                  22nd Ward
Jennifer Florida                 floridaj@stlouiscity.com               15th Ward
Joe Vaccaro                        vaccaroj@stlouiscity.com             23rd Ward
Joseph Roddy                    roddyj@stlouiscity.com                17th ward
Joseph Vollmer                 vollmerj@stlouiscity.com             10th Ward
Kacie Starr Triplett           triplettk@stlouiscity.com             6th Ward
Ken Ortmann                     ortmannk@stlouiscity.com          9th Ward
Lewis Reed                         reedl@stlouiscity.com                   President
Lyda Krewson                    krewsonl@stlouiscity.com           28th Ward
Marlene Davis                   davisma@stlouiscity.com             19th Ward
Matt Villa                             villam@stlouiscity.com                  11th Ward
Phyllis Young                      youngp@stlouiscity.com              7th Ward
Samuel Moore                  moores@stlouiscity.com              4th Ward
Shane Cohn                        cohns@stlouiscity.com                  25th Ward
Stephen Conway             conways@stlouiscity.com            8th Ward
Steve Gregali                     gregalis@stlouiscity.com              14th Ward
Terry Kennedy                  kennedyt@stlouiscity.com          18th ward
William Waterhouse       waterhousew@stlouiscity.com 24th Ward

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7 comments to St Louis Real Estate – Vacant Property Bill and It’s Affect on Property Rights

  • connie petty

    good article Dennis. thanks for all your hard work. connie

  • Dennis Norman

    Thanks Connie!

  • […] through all the details of the ordinance here, but I if you want to check it out I suggest you read a post I did on a St. Louis blog – I guarantee you, it’s worth reading and very enlightening as to what some cities have […]

  • […] through all the details of the ordinance here, but I if you want to check it out I suggest you read a post I did on a St. Louis blog – I guarantee you, it’s worth reading and very enlightening as to what some cities have […]

  • […] St Louis will most likely vote to pass the “Vacant Property Registration” bill that I wrote about last week in a post, pointing out what I feel are serious issues the bill has.  In spite of […]

  • Kerri Bonasch

    Dennis, I live in the best part of the city, and have had two neighbors where the landowners moved in convicted felons (police watches daily on the street so this is provable), let sewage flow into the back yard and much more than “one code violation”.

    As a former block captain, neighborhood association board member and president, I can tell you that these property owners were unresponsive and condescending to respectful requests requests for assistance.

    Some of the worst offenders live in the nicest homes, you’ll find when doing research. It has oft been discussed holding candlelight vigils with media at their homes to finally get assistance.

    Sadly, you cannot cast my story as an anomaly. This bill good or bad is a direct result of past perfomance.

    Property owners need to be responsible for their properties.
    It always irks me that the first line of defense is to blame the tenants; But it’s the property owners who allowed the tenants in, in the first place. If they are unable or unwilling to maintain property, then what this bill is saying is doing nothing, any longer, won’t be an option.

    Sure it’s easier to have a diatribe, instead of taking action. And that’s been what has happened for many years and nothing else.

    It’s the indifference, ignorance, irresponsibility or down right arrogance of too many city property owners who have made this bill a necessary reality.


  • Dennis Norman

    Thanks for your comment and for sharing hte “other side” of the story….Issues like this are always difficult to address…the property rights of landlords as well as the property rights of owner-occupants such as yourself…ordinances such as this one seek to protect property rights for you however may trample the property rights of the landlord…yes, even the landlord that makes bad tenant selection has rights….would I want to live next to a building owned by such a landlord? No, but there are also many irresponsible home owners I would not want to live next door to either…The real challenge is finding the solution that addresses issues such as those you have raised, but at the same time protects the rights of all propoerty owners…not an easy task at all.
    Thanks again,

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