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Realtors' objections prompt City Council to review occupancy ordinances

Wednesday, June 19, 2013 | 9:50 p.m. CDT; updated 3:44 p.m. CDT, Thursday, June 20, 2013

This article has been modified to clarify that the City Council passed one ordinance in January that amended two sections of city code related to over-occupancy rules. Also, the city's Law Department is reviewing those amendments.

COLUMBIA — The City Council has asked city attorneys to review recent amendments to city ordinances that are intended to prevent overoccupancy in residential properties after the Columbia Board of Realtors spoke against them this week.

Background of occupancy ordinances

Community Development Department Director Tim Teddy says the ordinances were drafted in response to public complaints about overoccupancy in residential neighborhoods, especially those with rental properties.

Prior to presenting the proposed ordinances to the council, the Office of Neighborhood Services looked at other cities, including college towns, to see how they addressed the issue.

If you're interested in learning more about the occupancy disclosure ordinances, the Department of Community Development has additional information.



Jessica Kempf, president of the Columbia Board of Realtors, asked the council Monday evening to rescind the ordinances. If it fails to do so, she said, the board will  proceed with civil litigation against the city government.

The board objects to two amendments that were approved on Jan. 7 as part of Bill 360-12.

  • One requires that real estate agents of brokers inform tenants of the zoning designation and the occupancy limits of the property. 
  • The other requires landlords to keep records of the disclosure to the tenant within the leasing agreement or a separate disclosure form and requires the renter to provide "all lease, rental payment and tenant information and the zoning occupancy disclosure form pertaining to the unit" of a tenant when law enforcement or city inspectors are investigating a possible code violation.

Kempf said the ordinances go against Missouri statutes and the National Association of Realtors' code of ethics, which states that, when representing a seller, an agent's primary obligation is to the seller of the property and not to the buyer.

Kempf argued that the work required to provide tenants with the zoning and occupancy information conflicts with the state statutes. 

"If the purpose of the ordinance is to place an affirmative duty on seller's and landlord's agents to investigate zoning and disclose information to a buyer or tenant, then this ordinance conflicts with years of well-reasoned Missouri law on the subject," Kempf said.

Kempf also said in her comments before the council that the ordinance requiring landlords and property owners to provide leasing information to law enforcement or inspectors investigating a possible code violation infringes on the Fourth Amendment rights of tenants.

In a phone interview Tuesday evening, City Counselor Nancy Thompson said that if law enforcement needed to investigate a code violation, the only information required could be what the tenant provided on the disclosure form. The Zoning Occupancy Disclosure Form provided on the city's website includes space for tenants to provide information on the number of occupants in the property, the names of the tenants, their phone numbers and email addresses.

Thompson said that if the property manager does not have the form on file, law enforcement could require other leasing documentation to collect the information they need.

Community Development Department Director Tim Teddy said his office would not keep the information on file.

"We're not interested in folks' personal data whatsoever," Teddy said.

During the public comments section of Monday's council meeting, Mayor Bob McDavid asked about the legality of disclosing tenants' personal information to law enforcement and city inspectors.

Responding to McDavid's question, Thompson said that the ordinances could be modified and that similar ordinances exist in other college towns.

Fifth Ward Councilwoman Laura Nauser asked that the Columbia Board of Realtors be included in any discussions about changes and said she was upset about how law enforcement could access personal information that could include Social Security numbers.

"I'm in support of working through this issue and making it more palatable," Nauser said.

Third Ward Councilman Karl Skala wanted a report from the city counselor to learn how the ordinances could be amended. McDavid supported Skala's request and said the ordinances should be reviewed.

"We owe it to everybody to totally review this process," McDavid said.

City Manager Mike Matthes said a report could be presented to the council "in a month."

Supervising editor is Jake Kreinberg.


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Comments

Allan Sharrock June 20, 2013 | 5:21 p.m.

So why wasn't any issue raised prior to the ordinance being passed? I didn't see it in the paper.

(Report Comment)
Michael Williams June 20, 2013 | 6:34 p.m.

"So why wasn't any issue raised prior to the ordinance being passed? I didn't see it in the paper."
_________________

I've been trying to discern an answer, but the best I can do is that they had to pass it before they could know what was in it.

I think this has happened before...

(Report Comment)
Ellis Smith June 20, 2013 | 7:04 p.m.

Michael:

So Nancy WAS there! Wish I'd known that; I'd have raced to our regional airport here, chartered a plane, and flown to Columbia, Missouri. Well, as Charlie Brown so aptly put it, "When my ship comes in I'll probably be at the airport."

No loss, I'll sit back and have a cold soft drink: "Koo Koo Kulak, the pause that rededicates." - from "Pogo," [the comic strip]

(Report Comment)

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