Boone County seeks authority to regulate rental property

Wednesday, February 15, 2012 | 8:21 p.m. CST; updated 9:39 p.m. CST, Wednesday, February 15, 2012

COLUMBIA — Public officials from Boone County renewed their efforts to gain authority from the state to regulate rental property in unincorporated areas of the county.

Detective Tom O'Sullivan of the Boone County Sheriff's Department said there are hundreds, if not thousands, of rental properties in unincorporated Boone County, which does not include Columbia.

"Most landlords are responsible members of the community," O'Sullivan said. "What we're trying to deal with is the small percentage of landlords who do not properly and adequately maintain their properties. They're basically slumlords."

O'Sullivan was one of three people who testified to the state Senate's Jobs, Economic Development and Local Government Committee on Wednesday afternoon. He told the committee that county residents have called the Sheriff's Department to complain about junk vehicles, sagging roofs, boarded-up windows, falling down gutters and debris scattered about the rental properties.

The committee took no action on Senate Bill 730, which is sponsored by Sen. Kurt Schaefer, R-Columbia. Because Boone County lacks a charter form of government, the county commission is unable to create and enact these types of ordinances without state legislative approval.

"We want to be able to create and enact rules, regulations and ordinances overseeing residential rental properties," O'Sullivan said. "At present, there are none. The state legislature has to grant the county that power."

Boone County Southern District Commissioner Karen Miller said the bill is a high priority.

"We've been working on it for three years," she said. "The Sheriff's Department has been very active in getting this passed."

O'Sullivan said the issue has been around for several years. 

"This is nothing new," he said. "Over the last 25 to 30 years, a lot of rental property has been developed in the unincorporated areas of Boone County, and most of this rental property is just outside the city limits of Columbia."

Although similar bills have failed to pass in previous attempts, O'Sullivan is optimistic the state will pass the legislation this year.

"The last few years it's been lumped up with other unrelated issues, which make it more difficult to get a bill passed," O'Sullivan said. 

Sam Licklider, a lobbyist for the Missouri Association of Realtors, opposed the bill, citing concerns about what kind of fees the county could impose.

The bill as drafted would allow the county to establish licensing and inspection programs for rental programs and to recover the cost of those programs by establishing "reasonable fees." Licklider, however, noted that the bill doesn't define what reasonable fees are.

"We've seen in other jurisdictions what sounds like a pretty reasonable idea, yet bent out of shape by overzealous bureaucracies," he said. "We'd just rather not have it happen."

Miller said that the county would work with the local board of realtors. "We always include all the stakeholders in whatever ordinance we are developing," she said.

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