PART 2:  A partly-repealed attack on privacy, property, and civil liberties

CoMo Property Mgmt. Report, 4/29/17 -- For nearly 40 years, the City of Columbia has disregarded the rights of renters and property managers with a law city officials use to gain access to people's homes without search warrants.

That law -- the Rental Unit Conservation Ordinance -- was passed in the late 70s in response to a carbon monoxide poisoning death. Today, it justifies hundreds of thousands of dollars in rental inspection fees that have nothing to do with carbon monoxide.

Why has it taken so long for landlords and tenants to start pushing back on City Hall's long history of 4th Amendment onslaughts? That's one question we're asking in this 4-part series.

Three reasons are evident: 1) the so-called "Ferguson Effect," named for the 2014 death of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri which has municipalities nationwide under a civil rights microscope; 2) City Hall's civil rights onslaughts have accelerated; and 3) the 2013 “Occupancy Disclosure Ordinance”.

As originally passed by the Columbia City Council on Jan. 7, 2013, the Occupancy Disclosure Ordinance may have been city government's most serious-ever assault on property and privacy rights.

It required 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, and other confidential materials.

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

He also argued it wasn't necessary, with only 46 over-occupancy complaints among 25,000 Columbia-area rental units. The ordinance is supposed to remedy rental over-occupancy.
Instead, it violated the 4th Amendment of the US Constitution and City Ordinance 22-189*. It especially disregarded the civil rights of renters, whose personal papers and privacy are protected under the 4th Amendment.

It also opened property managers to significant liability, for violating Federal and state privacy and credit disclosure laws.
When Council members passed the law over these objections, red flags went up across the real estate and property management industry.
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after belated opposition from the Columbia Board of Realtors and tenant rights groups affiliated with the ACLU, Council repealed the un-Constitutional part of the ordinance.

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

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

NEXT: The proposed Energy Efficiency Inspection and Compliance ordinance -- A new assault on civil rights with a big price tag and questionable origins

PART 1: CoMo rental unit compliance fees soar, up 2-300% since 2012