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Springfield, MO

Council considers shift in landlord responsibility

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Springfield City Council last night considered three bills that would put more responsibility on landlords to address nuisances at properties they own.

Presented by Building Development Services Director Chris Straw, the legislation would require land owners to register their properties with the city and accept responsibility when addressing nuisances such as excessive trash, dilapidated buildings and indoor items left outside structures. It also would establish the definition of vacant structure – one that is substantially void of personal belongings or furnishings.

The proposal follows a history of trouble identifying and contacting responsible parties after a service request for a property is received by the city, Straw said.

“There are currently properties registered as an LLC which lack a responsible party with authority to act in the owner’s behalf. There also are properties being registered using the family’s last name only,” council documents read. “Many properties are controlled by a lending institution or property-maintenance company, which makes it extremely difficult to identify and contact a responsible party to secure a response to issues in a timely manner.”

Straw said registration could easily be completed online at no cost to the landlord. If a service request for an unregistered property is received, a notice would be sent to the owner.

“This notice of violation is a courtesy,” he said. “You’ve got 10 days to register.”

If the owner fails to register following the notice, they would receive a penalty fee of $200.

Roughly 20 speakers signed up to speak to council following Straw’s presentations.

“I’ve invested in this city for 50 years,” one landlord, Floyd Malone said. “I don’t plan on registering my properties. If they want to know who owns that property, they can go over here to the county and look it up.”

He argued renters would begin to turn to the city regarding their problems, rather than coming to their landlords first.

Straw countered, saying the new safe housing program would not allow him to enter a structure without permission.

“We knock on the door and we seek permission to inspect. If the property owner or the tenant says, ‘Nope, I don’t want you in here,’ fine, I’m done,” Straw said. “I walk away, unless I feel that there are some grievous conditions inside that structure that concern me about the safety of whoever’s living there or who might be visiting there. In which case, I go for a search warrant before a judge, and I’ve got to prove probable cause.”

Another landlord, Mark Tendai, said once a property is leased, he gives up 99.9 percent of the property’s possession to the renter.

“We don’t control what the renter does in the property. The renter does,” Tendai said. “As we give up those rights, we’re still held liable for what the renters do.”

Councilman Craig Hosmer pointed out the landlord has the right to make sure their tenants comply with the law.

Tendai suggested council table the bills, so that Springfield landlords have a chance to speak together on the changes.

“We haven’t been given a chance yet,” he said. “We’d like to work on this bill as a group. We would like to start sometime soon.”

Straw said cases of nuisance properties have increased for at least the past couple of years.

“I anticipate anywhere from 1,500 to 2,000 more cases from what we had last year,” he said. “It has grown, and I don’t see an end to it. It seems to be moving across the city slowly and surely.”

Council will vote on the bills in two weeks.

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