County executive, two councilmen support reoccupancy permits for rental property
April 27, 2005 - County Council Chairman John Campisi, Councilman Kurt Odenwald and County Executive Charlie Dooley all support re-occupancy permits for non-owner occupied rental housing.
Odenwald, R-Shrewsbury, told members of the Isaiah Cluster of Metropolitan Congregations United, or MCU, last week that legislation could hit the pipeline in the next few weeks.
MCU officials outlined several of their goals for 2005 at the organization's annual Community Meeting last week and directly asked elected officials for their support. Asked if they supported the rental occupancy permits, all three county lawmakers said yes.
"I've been working on this sort of thing since I took office in 2001," said Campisi, R-south county. "I was able to travel with a lot of the officers and went to the home with inspectors. Two of the worst rental properties that I was able to walk through: the first one was this rental property that had no furniture but was raising rats for snakes. It was absolutely horrible. The conditions these people were living in were just horrible, and they were still paying the top dollar to rent that home.
"The other property was a regular two-story home," he continued. "The (owner) split it in half, only had a half bath upstairs, so the guy decided to put a tub in the kitchen. The kicker was that he ran 240 (electrical) wiring right down the side of the tub to a brand new stove. This is the sort of thing that we need to stop. Really, it's a health issue. It's a safety issue. So yes, I will support that kind of program."
Campisi had supported occupancy permits for Lemay in the past but declined to take a stance on a countywide program — at least with this newspaper.
For more than two years, the County Council has discussed requiring occupancy permits for non-owner occupied rental properties. Proponents say it would clean up run-down, ill-maintained apartment com-plexes by requiring regular inspections.
But opponents say the measure is discriminatory because it applies only to rental units and it will discourage real estate investment.
At a recent public hearing, Councilman Skip Mange, R-Town and Country, suggested appropriate legislation include owner-occupied homes as well, eliminating any alleged discrimination.
Mange also recommended the county exempt newly constructed or renovated houses for 10 years and limit inspections to every three years unless the director of the public works department dubs a unit a "problem facility" meriting frequent inspections. If the county is unable to make an inspection within three days of the re-quest, a tenant could move in anyway, curb-ing a potential delay in renting.
No legislation has been introduced, however.
"We want to create safe, strong, sustainable neighborhoods in unincorporated St. Louis County," said Sister Jean Greenwald of the School Sisters of Notre Dame. "The time is now. Let's not waste anymore time. Now is the time to pass an occupancy permit on rental properties in unincorporated St. Louis County."
Some municipalities have instituted such permits and some property conservation districts in the county also require re-occupancy permits.
Increasing the program beyond property conservation districts would cost the county about $800,000, according to figures from Garry Earls, director of the county Department of Public Works. About 10 additional people would be needed to assist the four county inspectors working now. But permit fees should cover the cost.
Based on Dooley's proposal, landlords would pay a $40 permit fee for multifamily units and $80 for single-family units to have the property inspected every time a new tenant is scheduled to take occupancy.
"I continue to lend my support and with the County Council, we're going to move it forward and I see it's going to be a brighter future," Dooley said at the MCU meeting.
Odenwald also supports the permits.
"We are really hopeful that in the next few weeks we are going to have legislation that comes down to the council that incorporates some of these ideas that we feel were important," he said, referring to Mange's suggestions. "I feel really confident that when that comes down with those changes that we're going to get this bill passed."
When legislation hits the council agenda, landlords likely will come in droves to oppose the permits, as they have at numerous public hearings.
They contend that such permits deter investment.