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Evictions bill delayed to consider effect on landlords

CITY HALL – The sponsor of a bill in the Board of Aldermen dealing with illegal evictions has delayed action on the measure so she can consider concerns of good landlords whose tenants won’t pay rent.
Christine Ingrassia

“Relief has been provided for tenants but not for landlords,” Ward 6 Alderwoman Christine Ingrassia, the bill’s sponsor, said at Friday’s Board of Aldermen meeting.

The proposed revision the Board of Aldermen is considering would change who enforces a city ordinance approved in 2017 that establishes the offense of illegal eviction. Instead of the police department, the sheriff’s office would enforce the law.

“Unfortunately, our police department doesn’t have the capacity to be able to undertake the enforcement of this ordinance,” Ingrassia said.

“The sheriff’s department is uniquely positioned to be able to handle especially eviction notifications because they are the agency that is already serving those summonses, and many times, they’re getting those calls anyway,” Ingrassia explained.

A landlord’s eviction of a tenant is illegal “by removing or excluding a tenant or the tenant’s personal property from the premises without judicial process and court order, or by causing such removal or exclusion,” the ordinance says.

Eviction is illegal if the landlord removes the door or locks to a rental property or interrupts essential utilities such as electric, gas, water or sewer service.

In discussion of the bill at Friday’s aldermanic meeting, 1st Ward Alderwoman Sharon Tyus had no problem speaking up for the victims of unfair eviction. After law school, she said, she worked with tenants facing eviction to ensure they had all their rights.

But as a landlord herself, Tyus also knows how much tenants who don’t pay rent hurt owners of rental property. She said it was worse now that COVID-19 had brought federal and local court limits on evictions.

“I have struggled with this concept of not allowing landlords to evict people, and I understand the concept behind it,” Tyus said. That’s fine, she said, “As long as you also require that people not be able to charge the landlords for water, insurance, all of the other things, mortgages.”

Ingrassia agreed with Tyus’s point and said she had heard the same from others. She said she was willing to take the issue up with Tyus before the bill went any further. She pulled it from consideration for initial approval by the Board of Aldermen.

In another matter, tenants who are behind in their rent because of the COVID-19 pandemic will soon get temporary help from a new allocation of federal Community Development Block Grant money. The Board of Aldermen voted on Friday to accept a $2,390,776 block grant for the program.

Aldermen also passed a bill establishing a cooperative law enforcement agreement between the city and the United States Department of the Interior, National Park Service. Both agencies agree to work together on law enforcement with the city, including at the Gateway Arch National Park.

Jim Merkel

southsidemerkel@gmail.com Born and raised in St. Louis, Jim Merkel covered communities throughout the area from 1991 to 2013 for the old Suburban Journals of Greater St. Louis. He is the author of four books about the Gateway City published by Reedy Press. He and his wife, Lorraine, live in the Bevo Mill neighborhood of south St. Louis. For more about Jim, visit www.jimmerkelthewriter.com.

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