Real estate agents say Cape rental ordinance presents 'access issue'

Sunday, September 2, 2012

Members of the Cape Girardeau County Board of Realtors will return to Cape Girardeau's city council meeting Tuesday night to make a second attempt at convincing the city to change a proposed rental licensing ordinance.

Ken Kiefer, chairman of the board's governmental affairs committee, said the board supports an ordinance that would promote safety for tenants through inspections, but the way the ordinance is currently written could allow unauthorized property inspections and creates liability risks for real estate agents.

"We are not saying at all that safety is not an issue. This is an access issue," Kiefer said.

Assistant city manager Kelly Green revised a section of the ordinance since Aug. 20, when the council heard the first reading and gave its approval. Board members appeared at that meeting with opinions from National Association of Realtors attorneys that were based on a prior draft of the ordinance. The association's attorneys have since reviewed the version presented to the council and found that two issues the board raised had been addressed, but several others remained. Green's changes since Aug. 20 were based on suggestions made by council member Mark Lanzotti.

Green said Friday that she was unsure if all the board's concerns could be addressed by the changes made so far and, if that were the case, that the council could still make revisions before the ordinance's final adoption.

Lanzotti suggested including language saying that all parties involved with a property should be notified of an ordinance violation.

The ordinance would require landlords to obtain annual licenses, with the cost of the license based on how many units they own, and mandates maintenance of properties. Some provisions for maintenance and cleanliness would be the responsibility of tenants. City staff worked with the Cape Area Landlord Association to write the ordinance.

The draft ordinance from Aug. 20, according to National Association of Realtors attorneys, addresses two issues raised by the board -- what happens to occupants if a residential rental license is suspended or revoked and who must receive notice of a violation and will ultimately be held liable for any violations.

Other issues, according to the attorneys, include the lack of a process for contesting penalty fines, vagueness of certain maintenance standards and the financial burden an ordinance would impose on rental property owners.

Kiefer said one of the board's primary concerns is city inspectors could be granted the right to enter rental housing without a property owner's permission. He said the board thinks that the city may again be in the position to say the attorneys' comments do not apply to the current draft, as was told to Kiefer and board president David Soto by city staff at the Aug. 20 meeting, but he said what the board is contesting in the ordinance hasn't changed at all from the original draft.

"If a person is going to enter a property on an official matter, it doesn't matter if they are a doctor, a lawyer or an Indian chief," Kiefer said. "They don't have permission unless the owner gives it to them."

Kiefer said a property manager does not have the authority to let an inspector on a property unless one has an agreement with an owner that permission may be granted. He said the ordinance would allow a tenant to grant access.

"They are wanting property managers held just as responsible as an owner. With that, you're going to have people getting out of the rental business," Kiefer said. "There's too much risk for property managers, and they aren't going to put up with that."

Two council members, Kathy Swan and Trent Summers, said at the Aug. 20 meeting that they were giving the ordinance conditional support based off the possibility that changes could be made as the ordinance made its way toward passage. The ordinance passed the first reading unanimously.

Council is set to hear the two final readings and vote on the ordinance at its next meeting at 7 p.m. Tuesday.

eragan@semissourian.com

388-3627

Pertinent address:

401 Independence St., Cape Girardeau, MO

Map of pertinent addresses

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