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CONSTITUTIONAL CHALLENGE: Columbia Realtors agree new law violates 4th Amendment

Demand to turn over "all tenant information" to inspectors and cops unnecessary, unwarranted -- and un-Constitutional

 
COLUMBIA, Mo 6/15/13 (Beat Byte) -- The Columbia Board of Realtors (CBOR) has joined the fight to overturn a new city ordinance many have called blatantly un-Constitutional.

CBOR president Jessica Kempf is scheduled to present a five point list of critical problems with the so-called "Occupancy Disclosure Ordinance" at Monday night's Columbia City Council meeting.

Point IV on the CBOR list: "The Ordinance is an infringement on tenants' Constitutional 4th Amendment rights."   Kempf will ask audience members to stand and raise their hands if they are in favor of rescinding the ordinance.

Passed with a unanimous Council vote in February, the Occupancy Disclosure Ordinance makes it "unlawful for any owner, operator, agent or property manager of a rental unit to fail to immediately exhibit, upon request by a police officer or city inspector investigating any code violation, all lease, rental payment, tenant information and the zoning occupancy disclosure form pertaining to the unit."
 
The clause clashes head on with the Constitution's Fourth Amendment guaranteeing "the right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures."
 
It may also present significant civil liability for property managers.   As Columbia land use attorney Skip Walther told Council members during debate over the ordinance, its broad language requires landlords to turn over everything from basic occupancy numbers to confidential credit information protected under Federal laws, including the Fair Credit Reporting Act.
 
"As this ordinance is written, our police will supposedly have the right of an unlimited search of tenant information," Walther told the Council.  "That could be social security numbers, employment, family, and educational background. This ordinance gives police the right to search that information without a warrant."
 
Disclosing credit information to parties who are not part of an authorized transaction -- in this case, a rental credit and reference check -- comes with significant Federal penalties, opening property managers to lawsuits based on a host of different issues. 
 
Sources tell the Heart Beat occupancy problems in the Grasslands led Council members and city staff to adopt the ordinance.  Grasslands neighborhood and homeowners association leaders reportedly lobbied City Hall for an ordinance that would "sting neighborhood rentals as much as possible."   
 
The Grasslands lobby has crusaded against rental property owners before, most notably with its recent unsuccessful attempts to demolish eight historic homes on Providence Rd.   Many of the homes are rentals. 
 
A review of January 7th Council meeting debate indicates emotions ruled over logic and law, with few property management experts and only one lawyer -- Walther -- advising Council members. 
 
A backlash against the law -- and other rental occupancy provisions -- has kicked off as its implications settled on both tenants and landlords.   The Columbia Apartment Owners Association has long opposed the law, primarily over issues of Constitutionality and undue regulation. 
 
 
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