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ATTENTION CoMo RENTERS: City Hall's most serious-ever attack on your civil rights

A repealed assault on privacy and the 4th Amendment.  Part 2 of a series.

 
COLUMBIA, 6/7/17 (Beat Byte ) -- Unanimously passed by the Columbia City Council in January 2013, the Occupancy Disclosure Ordinance may have been city government's most serious-ever assault on property and privacy rights.

Directed at only one subset of the population -- residential renters -- it is the subject of part two of our look at City Hall's attacks on the rights and pocketbooks of people who rent their homes instead of owning them.   

Columbia's rental population has grown tremendously over the past few years, with students and student apartments making up a large portion of it.  Perceived as vulnerable and rich -- with either student loans or parental support -- student renters are in the crosshairs of City Hall and private, mostly out-of-state developers

Columbia's 2013 Occupancy Disclosure Ordinance (ODO) required all property managers to "immediately exhibit, upon request, to a police officer or city inspector, all leases, rental payments, and tenant information," which includes rental applications, credit data, employment verification, landlord references, personal information, and other confidential material.

Columbia Apartment Association attorney Skip Walther told the Columbia City Council the ordinance was "probably unconstitutional and certainly over-reaching.”

The ordinance was supposed to remedy rental over-occupancy.   But Walther argued it wasn't necessary, with only 46 over-occupancy complaints among 25,000 Columbia-area rental units.  
 
More importantly, the ordinance clearly violated the 4th Amendment of the US Constitution -- and City Ordinance 22-189*.  It ignored the civil rights of renters, whose personal papers and privacy are protected under the 4th Amendment just like homeowners.

The ODO also opened property managers to significant liability, for violating Federal and state privacy and credit disclosure laws.
 
Columbia City Council members passed the law over these objections.   Red flags went up across real estate, property management, and tenants rights organizations. 
 
Ten months later, on Oct. 21, 2013 after belated opposition from the Columbia Board of Realtors and tenant rights groups affiliated with the ACLU, Council repealed the un-Constitutional "a city inspector or cop can look at your rental application and credit report anytime they want" part of the ordinance.

During the repeal debate, city manager Mike Matthes insisted the city needed these broad powers to “expedite” complaint investigations.

But at least one Council person had second thoughts and disagreed.  
 
"It would certainly expedite law enforcement's ability to do investigations if we did away with warrants, too," 5th Ward Councilwoman Laura Nauser told him. "We should not support the argument that efficiency necessitates taking away freedoms."


*Columbia City Ordinance 22-189 encodes the rights of property managers and renters to demand search warrants for inspections related to rental compliance.
 
NEXT:   Proposed energy efficiency ordinance targets only renters of single family houses  


"An injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere." -- Martin Luther King, Jr.
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