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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City of Bellefontaine Neighbors Attacks First Amendment Rights Again

Well, the City of Bellefontaine Neighbors, in north St. Louis County, is back at it again. As some readers may recall, in February of last year I wrote about the appellant court declaring that an ordinance passed by the City of Bellefontaine Neighbors requiring property owners to apply for an inspection before advertising their home for sale violated their property rights and was unconstitutional. Then, the following month I wrote another article on the subject, this time about how, in spite of the decision of the appellant court, the city of Bellefontaine was still enforcing the ordinance.

So what are they up to?  Well, this afternoon I found out that tomorrow, May 5th, the Bellefontaine Neighbors Board of Alderman will consider passing Bill No. 2233, “Pre-Sales Inspections”, which, if passed, would in my opinion be the City thumbing their noses at the Eastern District Court of Appeals decision since this bill is basically the same as the ordinance struck down by the court with the exception being that in this one instead of requiring an application for an inspection PRIOR to listing your home for sale it now says you have to apply within 3 days of advertising your home for sale.  Yep, I’m serious….

While some of you may think this doesn’t affect you because you don’t own property in the City of Bellefontaine Neighbors, think again…Ordinances tend to spread from one municipality to another, particularly in a case like this where the city attorney, Kevin O’Keefe, represents many other municipalities in the area.

So what can you do to try to prevent this?  The St. Louis Association of REALTORS has set up a Call to Action and you can easily send a message to the Alderman of the City of Bellefontaine Neighbors encouraging them not to pass this bill by clicking on this link.

Michigan couple awarded $600,000 judgment against Worth Township; Proof that you can fight city hall

Dennis Norman St Louis

Dennis Norman

Who says you can’t fight City Hall and win?

Well, it wasn’t easy, nor quick, but George and Margaret Paeth of the Worth Township in Michigan have”beat” City Hall and been awarded $600,000 by a Federal Court Judge. According to a press release by their attorney’s, Daniel P. Dalton and Pauline J. Pensler, this judgment is “one of the largest procedural due process and First Amendment retaliation verdicts in the nation, and the largest for the Eastern District of Michigan’s federal courts.” Continue reading “Michigan couple awarded $600,000 judgment against Worth Township; Proof that you can fight city hall

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.


St Louis Real Estate – What happened to property rights?


Dennis Norman

This story is part of my ongoing series on how local laws negatively impact the property rights of property owners in the St. Louis area

Unfortunately I don’t have to try too hard to find examples of local laws that seriously impact the rights of property owners in the St. Louis area, particularly those property owners that are landlords or other investors.

My story today comes from a friend of mine, a St. Louis REALTOR(R) that buys homes for his rental portfolio.  For the sake of the article, and to help him avoid retaliation from Velda City, I’m going to refer to this person as “Joe” in this article. 

Joe’s story is interesting, and scary.  Joe purchased a home in Velda City, a small municipalty of 1,600 people with an average household income of $35,745, and one of 91 municipalities in St. Louis County, Missouri.  Joe’s plan to was to rehab the house and rent it.

Velda City has an ordinance that requires an inspection by the City of the home before not only someone can move into the home (which is sort of typical), but also before ANY work can be done to the property.  This part of the ordinance is a little unusual…most municipalities allow a property owner to work on their property and try to bring it in compliance with all local building codes prior to having it inspected so long as the house is not occupied prior to being “passed” by the city.

In this case, my friend Joe went by the house he bought one day after buying it so that he could show a prospective tenant the house and describe the improvements he was going to make as well as to leave a few tools in the garage. 

Joe was present at the home he had purchased for a total of about 15 minutes when the Velda City Police showed up.  They questioned why he was “on” his property prior to getting the home inspected.  He explained that he was just showing the house to someone and dropping off some tools in the garage and assured the officer that no work was being done to the property.  Unfortunately Joes explanation didn’t matter, the officer wrote him a ticket for, basically being in the home he owned. 

So Joe got a ticket for being present on his property basically.


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             13th Ward
Antonio French                     21st Ward            
April Ford-Griffin                   5th Ward
Charles Quincy Troupe              1st Ward
Craig Schmid                         20th Ward
Dionne Flowers                  2nd Ward
Donna Baringer                 16th Ward
Frank Williamson           26th ward
Fred Heitert                           12th Ward
Freeman Bosley, Sr.               3rd Ward
Greg Carter                             27th ward
Jeffrey Boyd                              22nd Ward
Jennifer Florida                      15th Ward
Joe Vaccaro                           23rd Ward
Joseph Roddy                          17th ward
Joseph Vollmer                    10th Ward
Kacie Starr Triplett              6th Ward
Ken Ortmann                     9th Ward
Lewis Reed                                  President
Lyda Krewson                     28th Ward
Marlene Davis                      19th Ward
Matt Villa                                     11th Ward
Phyllis Young                          7th Ward
Samuel Moore                      4th Ward
Shane Cohn                                25th Ward
Stephen Conway               8th Ward
Steve Gregali                         14th Ward
Terry Kennedy                  18th ward
William Waterhouse 24th Ward

St Louis Real Estate-Appellant Court Decision Huge Victory for Property Owners

Dennis Norman

Appeals Court Strikes Down Bellefontaine’s Ordinance Affecting Real Estate For Sale Signs

At the end of January the Missouri Court of Appeals-Eastern District handed down a decision on a case that I think is a significant victory for St. Louis property owners and strikes down part of an ordinance that violates our property rights as well as our First Amendment Rights to free speech.

The case involves Mark Scatizzi, a local REALTOR® who, after listing a home for sale at 1027 Addision, in the City of Bellefontaine Neighbors, advertised the property for sale and posted a “for sale” sign in the window of the property, all without first applying for an inspection of the home by Bellefontaine Neighbors.   The City then charged Scatizzi by information in municipal court with two ordinance violations, the first being failure to have the property inspected and obtain a certificate of compliance from the City prior to marketing theproperty for sale, and the second being for displaying a “for-sale” sign in the window, again without obtaining the inspection first.  Ultimately one charge was dismissed and the lower court ruled in favor of the City on the remaining one and fined Scattizi $100.  Scattizi appealed the decision and the Appellant Court just reversed the lower courts ruling. 

What Mark Scatizzi had faced with the City of Bellefontaine was something that many of us St Louis REALTORS® have to deal with daily; local ordinances that are passed that either affect owner’s property rights, impede an owner’s ability to sell a property or in some cases discourage ownership of rental property.  In the case of Bellefontaine Neighbors, the city has in their property maintenance code the following requirement:

(a)    It shall be unlawful for the owner or lessor of any property subject to the provisions of this code, or their agent, to advertise in any way, or to list with a real estate agent or other broker, such property for the purpose of selling, leasing, renting or otherwise transferring its ownership or possession, without first applying for the issuance of a Certificate of Compliance by the code official.

In his appeal Scatizzi stated that he felt this ordinance was unconstitutional and limited his right to free speech, below is an excerpt from the decision with the comments on this claim by Judge Clifford Ahrens who wrote the opinion of the appellant court:

In his first point, Defendant asserts that the trial court erred in enforcing section 112.4(a) of ordinance 2057 because it violates his right to free speech, his right to contract, and his right against unreasonable search and seizure.

3 Regarding speech, Defendant contends specifically that, by prohibiting an owner or agent from advertising property without first applying for a certificate of compliance, section 112.4(a) places an unconstitutional restriction on commercial speech. We agree.

 Scatizzi also claimed that the Bellefontaine ordinance violation a Missouri State Law (67.317 RSMo) that was passed back in 1984 that states “No political subdivision of this state shall enact or enforce any ordinance which forbids or restricts the right of any owner of an interest in real property or his agent from displaying on the property a sign of reasonable dimensions, as may be determined by local ordinance, advertising:”. 


The appellant court agreed with Scatizzi on this point as well addressing as follows:

In his second point, Defendant asserts that the trial court erred in not finding that section 112.4(a) of ordinance 2057 violates section 67.317 RSMo, which prohibits municipalities from restricting the right of homeowners and their agents to erect signs advertising real property for sale except as to sign size….

Superimposing the plain language of section 112.4(a) of ordinance 2057 over that of section 67.317 RSMo compels the conclusion that the ordinance violates the statute. The Supreme Court of Missouri reached such a conclusion under similar facts in City of Dellwood v. Twyford, 912 S.W.2d 58 (Mo. 1995). There, the city’s ordinance required owners to submit an application and pay a fee before advertising real property for sale. Noting that section 67.317 does not authorize cities to impose any restrictions other than reasonable dimension restrictions, the Court held the ordinance invalid. Id. at 60. Likewise here, section 112.4(a) of ordinance 2057 purports to impose a restriction that section 67.317 expressly prohibits.  As such, we hold it invalid.  Point granted. 

And finally the conclusion of the appellant court decision was:

The judgment of the trial court is reversed.

I assumed that this decision by the appellant court would cause the City of Bellefontaine Neighbors to stop enforcing the part of their ordinance deemed unconstitutional and in violation of State Law by the appellant court, but it appears my assumption may be wrong, at least for now.  I say this because I just called Bellefontaine to confirm they were not enforcing these parts of the ordinance and after speaking with Karen in the building department it appears the city is still enforcing the ordinance, in spite of the appellant court decision. 

I asked Karen if I was a homeowner and called city hall saying that I wanted to put my home on the market and was it OK to advertise it and put up a for-sale sign what I would be told and she told me that I would be told that I need to come in and fill out a building inspection application, pay the fee, and then after the initial building inspection I could then advertise my home for sale and put up a sign.  Hmm…not sure what they are thinking…..