The St. Louis County Council revived stalled legislation requiring owners of rental property in unincorporated St. Louis County to obtain licenses.
Yet even though the legislation went through more alterations, the bill’s critics contended they didn’t get enough time to review the changes before they were adopted.
Councilman Mike O’Mara, D-Florissant, has been pushing for the landlord licensing legislation for the past several weeks. He contends it will make it easier for the county to respond to what he calls “problem properties” — particularly in unincorporated areas such as Glasgow Village.
But detractors contended the bill was too far sweeping and vague, and could have revoked licenses for minor offenses or even for informing the police of domestic violence. Even though O’Mara’s bill went through major changes last week, the council rejected them.
O’Mara introduced a new version of his bill on Tuesday that made even more changes. It no longer would revoke a license for three or more instances of “public nuisances." It also reduced the penalties for not complying with bill's regulations. And it made clear that a landlord had to evict a tenant for committing certain felonies within a property.
These changes were enough for Councilman Kevin O’Leary, D-Oakville, to change his "no" vote into a "yes" vote. His shift allowed O’Mara’s revised bill to be adopted by a 4-3 margin. (It still needs another vote next week to go to St. Louis County Executive Steve Stenger’s desk.)
“I got a chance to look at it and talked it over with [County Counselor] Peter Krane,” O’Leary said. “He explained it to me in great detail. I think he addressed a lot of things that there were concerns about. And I felt like this time it was the right time to do it.”
While emphasizing that he would withhold judgment on the bill until it passes the council, Stenger said it could potentially save the county money by making difficult properties easier to track.
“It’s going to make it easier to track derelict landlords and derelict properties,” Stenger said. “And basically what we’re trying to do is get ahold of those landlords and require them to take care of their properties, as opposed to taxpayers countywide taking care of those properties.”
Stenger also said he was happy with how the bill had progressed throughout the past few weeks.
“I think if we look at the positive aspects of what has occurred, we have seen citizens coming to council meetings and [umbrella groups] coming to council meetings and requesting changes to the legislation,” Stenger said. “And those changes were made. I think we’ve seen a bill that has evolved as a result of the democratic process.”
Not enough notice?
But Councilman Mark Harder, R-Ballwin, said councilmembers and the general public didn’t have enough time to review the bill before the meeting started. He said councilmembers were first reading the new version of the bill “when the Pledge of Allegiance was going on so that we can make an opinion – it’s ridiculous.”
“I think this was a travesty of government,” Harder said. “This bill was brought to us minutes before we walked onto the dais tonight. And that’s not the way you do a transparent or handle a transparent government.”
Jerry Hopping owns a number of properties in Glasgow Village. He, too, was upset that the stakeholders like him didn’t get wind of the new bill until the council meeting started.
He also took issue with a revised requirement to evict people who commit felonies on a property. While Krane said during the meeting that a landlord would only be prompted to remove from the property the person who committed the felony, Hopping said that’s not legally possible.
“Legally, you cannot evict a single person out of a household – you have to evict the household,” Hopping said. “You can’t tell me ‘oh, just take Johnny’s stuff and put it on the curb.’ There’s no legal mechanism to do that. And even if I could just put Johnny on the curb, I’m separating him from his mother. He’s now got nowhere to live, unless he tries to sneak back in.
“Guess where he’s going to go? He’s either going to go to a shelter or he’s going to hang out in abandoned property,” he added. “And he’s going to basically cause a bigger issue with your crime in the area, because he’s going to learn more on the streets.”
When asked if he and other landlords have been listened to during deliberations on the bill, Hopping replied: “Hell no.”
“They’re acting and basically saying ‘shove it,’” Hopping said. “They’ve never been in involved in eviction. They’ve never been involved in how you get occupancy permits. They don’t have a clue how the slumlords are getting around their current laws. We do. We want to stop that.”
When asked about the criticism that there wasn’t enough public input put into the bill the council passed on Tuesday, O’Leary said: “It’s a tough thing to answer a question like that.”
“There’s a way that they do things and there’s a way that they don’t do things,” O’Leary said. “This is the way they chose to do it this time.”
And while noting that he is not a voting member of the council, Stenger said, “There will be, by law, a whole week for the public to review the bill and make comments next week,” he said.