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Moving to Maplewood? You might want to attend a meeting about its public nuisance ordinance first

Maplewood city attorney Craig Biesterfeld and City Manager Marty Corcoran look through the city code during a meeting with a reporter at Maplewood City Hall.
Jenny Simeone-Cases | St. Louis Public Radio

Maplewood’s thriving business district and respected schools are attractive to potential residents. But, aspiring residents must first apply and be approved for an occupancy permit. Even after such a permit is granted, the city’s public nuisance ordinance allows it to be revoked under certain conditions.

The ACLU of Missouri and the St. Louis Equal Housing and Opportunity Council on Wednesday are co-hosting what they bill as a “community discussion” about Maplewood's public nuisance ordinance. The event is intended to help residents understand the ordinance and their rights when it comes to enforcement.

The ACLU of Missouri sued Maplewood in 2017, calling the ordinance unconstitutional. The case goes to trial in November. The equal housing commission also filed suit against the city last year, but that lawsuit has been dismissed. 

MORE | From complaint to eviction, here's how the Maplewood nuisance ordinance works

Appearing on a recent episode of the We Live Here podcast, civil rights attorney Sasha Samberg-Champion, who tracks such rules, said the Maplewood public nuisance ordinance, which applies to renters and home owners, has similarities with others around the country, to a point.

“Maplewood, Missouri, has perhaps the worst,” Samberg-Champion said. Maplewood's rule can result in a six-month expulsion from the city.

“If two or more police calls are associated with you, the town can actually hold a hearing and then revoke your occupancy permit, and that effectively expels you from town,” he said.

Responding to questions via email, Maplewood City Manager Marty Corcoran wrote:

"The ACLU is presently suing the City of Maplewood in regards to our nuisance ordinance. The city will not participate in this public forum due to the ongoing ACLU litigation. We strongly disagree with the ACLU and EHOC position."

Former Maplewood resident Rosetta Watson is the plaintiff at the heart of the ACLU case. She knows about expulsion all too well. Watson said on the We Live Here podcast that she moved to the city to make a new life after escaping domestic abuse. When her abuser showed up at her home, more than once, she called police. Those calls counted against her.

City officials in Maplewood, Missouri forced Rosetta Watson from her home using a public nuisance ordinance. Watson is suing the city in federal court and her story is featured in the latest episode of We Live Here.
Credit Carolina Hidalgo | St. Louis Public Radio
City officials in Maplewood forced Rosetta Watson from her home using a public nuisance ordinance. Her story is featured in the We Live Here podcast episode, "Nuisance or Nonsense?"

After a hearing, the city revoked Watson’s occupancy permit.

“I’m banned and barred from Maplewood for six months,” she said. “Come on, now. Where’d they get that? I couldn’t do anything.”

The ACLU-EHOC event is set for 6:30 p.m., Wednesday at Salvation Army Fellowship Hall, at 7701 Rannells Ave. in Maplewood.

Hear more about Maplewood's public nuisance ordinance from We Live Here.

Holly Edgell is lead editor for Sharing America, a collaborative covering the intersection of race, identity and culture. This new initiative, funded by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, includes reporters in Hartford, St. Louis, Kansas City, and Portland, Oregon. Follow Holly on Twitter @hollyedgell.

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