St. Louis County Could Force Eviction of Tenants With Misdemeanors Under New Plan (UPDATED)

As if landlords didn't have enough to worry about... - via Flickr
via Flickr
As if landlords didn't have enough to worry about...

Update: St. Louis County Councilman Michael O'Mara — the sponsor of a controversial bill that would force landlords to evict tenants convicted of certain crimes in the past year —  is reportedly ill and could not attend Tuesday night's council meeting. During the meeting, Council Chair Pat Dolan promised that critics' concerns are "being addressed," reports the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. The next council meeting is scheduled for October 6. 

Our original coverage continues below. 

Mark your calendars, landlords and tenants of unincorporated St. Louis County: Tomorrow at 6 p.m., the county council may take a final vote on a controversial statute that would add new "residential rental license" laws to the books. 

The free license would require an annual application from the landlords of residential rental properties in unincorporated St. Louis County. The application would include things like the name, street address and telephone number of the landlord and the address of each rental property. All basic enough. 

However, buried in the guts of the bill are several paragraphs describing how those licenses can be suspended or revoked. According to a copy of the bill, the licensing law would allow the county to force landlords to evict any tenant convicted in the past year of felony, misdemeanor or ordinance violations on a variety of crimes, from drug dealing to alcohol consumption to gambling.

Landlords who don't evict tenants after 30 days would risk a $1,000 fine, one year jail and the loss their rental licenses on all of their properties. 

Here's what the bill says: (Emphasis is ours.)

The [Director of the Department of Public Works] may provide written notice to the owner of residential rental property licensed under this Code that an occupant thereof, within a period of one year, has been convicted of having violated a felony, misdemeanor or ordinance related to the following acts: 

a. illegal sale, manufacture, storing, possession, distribution or use of narcotics or other controlled substances or precursors;
b. illegal sale, manufacture, storing, possession, distribution or use of drug paraphernalia or precursors;
c. illegal sale, storing, possession, use or distribution of a firearm, weapon or explosive device, or other violation of law related to use or possession of the same;
d. prostitution;
e. illegal gambling;
f. illegal sale, distribution and consumption of alcoholic beverages.

Within 30 days of receipt of such notice from the Director, the owner shall initiate eviction proceedings against such occupant or occupants, and shall thereafter diligently pursue them... An owner who fails to begin eviction proceedings with regard to such occupant or occupants within 30 days of receipt of the Director’s notice, or who fails diligently to pursue such eviction proceedings, shall be subject to license suspension.
And here are the penalties the bill would levy on a landlord for not evicting a tenant who, for example, had been convicted in the past year of violating the county ordinance prohibiting consumption of alcohol in a massage parlor — or something equally innocuous:

Every person or entity convicted of a violation of any of the provisions of this chapter shall be fined not more than One Thousand Dollars ($1,000.00) or imprisoned in the St. Louis County Jail for not more than one year, or be punished by both such fine and imprisonment.

Each day in which a person or entity allows occupancy of residential rental property in violation of any provision of this chapter shall constitute a separate violation.
Our attempts to reach the bill's sponsor, Councilman Mike O’Mara, were unsuccessful. A St. Louis County clerk tells Riverfront Times that it is possible the bill won't be voted on tomorrow night — if, say, O'Mara decides to propose a motion to further amend the bill. 

The bill is already drawing harsh criticism. In a press release, Reverend Larry Rice, head of the embattled New Life Evangelistic Center downtown, wrote, "Innocent children will be put on the streets if any member of their family commits any of the violations" listed in the bill. 

Willie Jordan, executive director of the Metropolitan St. Louis Equal Housing and Opportunity Council, told St. Louis Public Radio (KWMU 90.7) that the bill could end up disproportionately hurting poor and minority tenants. 

“In the light of what’s going in Ferguson, we really feel like this bill is going exactly the opposite direction. We feel that it’s going to impede the county’s ability to help to dismantle segregation and racism with the disproportionate number of minorities that this bill has the potential to affect,” Jordan said. 

Follow Danny Wicentowski on Twitter at @D_Towski. E-mail the author at [email protected]
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