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Councilmember promotes landlord licensing in St. Louis County

A proposal that would require some apartment landlords to be licensed by St. Louis County has run into headwinds generated by councilmembers Colleen Wasinger (District 3) and Mark Harder (District 7).

“I am not in favor of the bill as it is currently written,” Wasinger said. “It needs a lot of work.”

Harder also said his office has received phone calls from property owners opposed to the measure.

“I want to slow this thing down,” he said.

The bill is being sponsored by Councilmember Mike O’Mara (District 4), who proposed a similar measure in 2014. At that time, a number of property owners and real estate professionals actively worked against the bill’s adoption.

Known as the Residential Rental Property Licensing Code, O’Mara’s bill would require some landlords of rental property in unincorporated St. Louis County to receive a license prior to the rental of the property. The county’s director of public works would issue the annual license.Affected properties would include single-family homes, two-family buildings and townhomes, and multi-family dwellings with four or fewer units. Units occupied by certain relatives of the property owner could be exempted from the licensing requirement, and the law would not apply to university-owned housing, hotels and motels, or to developments with five or more housing units.

O’Mara, who did not respond to requests for comment, had earlier said that that the bill was a  “proactive way to maintain and stabilize neighborhoods. We’re finding a lot of landlords from out-of-state are hard to track down for property violations, and they put people in the rentals without occupancy permits or bringing the property up to code.”

Opponents have argued before the council that licensing could affect the availability of housing for the poor, make landlords less likely to do business in the county, or force residents with foreign-exchange students or some relatives living with them to apply for a rental license.

The new bill provides for denial of licenses in cases of unpaid court fines, when the property is found to be out of building code compliance, and when occupants have been declared to be a nuisance. Building owners would not pay a licensing fee but owners in violation of the licensing law would be subject to fines and jail time, and existing licenses could be suspended or revoked.

Wasinger said the county “has adequate legislation now” to address problem properties through an existing nuisance code and occupancy permit requirement, but she said she understood that O’Mara’s North County district has rental property problems that are more pronounced than those in West County.

Harder said that the county already has a problem property unit, and that he is concerned the legislation would require an increase in the number of county housing inspectors. His district, he said, has more problems with bank-owned foreclosure properties than with landlord-owned properties.

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