St. Louis County Abrogates Property Rights

St. Louis County, Mo. is planning to force property owners to purchase a landlord's license to rent out or even allow friends or family to inhabit a privately owned domicile.

Not content with collecting fees for "safety" inspections and occupancy permits, the county government is now intent on imposing a landlord's license and extracting yet another fee.  Duplication of current law aside, this new requirement strikes at the heart of a fundamental legal right: the right to ownership of property.

Private property is the most basic principle in American jurisprudence.  When Thomas Jefferson wrote the Declaration of Independence, he borrowed from the philosopher John Locke, who asserted three fundamental rights enjoyed by all: life, liberty, and property.  Jefferson, at the urging of Benjamin Franklin, changed the last to "pursuit of happiness" because he did not want to give slaveholders any sort of legal justification should abolition finally overtake the "peculiar institution."  Still, everyone knew what Jefferson was getting at here, and though the Declaration is not a foundational legal document, it does illustrate the mindset of the Founders, who clearly believed in ownership of property.

As John Adams stated:

The moment the idea is admitted into society that property is not as sacred as the law of God, and that there is not a force of law and public justice to protect it, anarchy and tyranny commence.

And so it is; without a sacred view of property, a society inevitably slides into despotism.

The first property right is self-ownership.  We have seen the left nibble away at this concept, and the ObamaCare mandate has effectively tipped the scales toward state ownership of American citizens.

With that under their belts, the Progressives can now turn their lustful eyes back toward real estate.  Actually, they have been nibbling away at the rights of property owners for decades.  Eminent domain, the Fair Housing Act, zoning restrictions, occupancy permits, "safety" inspections (which are more often than not also about cosmetics), property maintenance codes – all circumscribe the rights of owners to have final say on the use of their property.  Yes, many of these things were well-intentioned and have contributed to a more pleasant society, but the movement has been ever toward government regulation of private property.  While property rights are not absolute, where does ownership end?  If government tells the owner how he can use his property, can it be said that we have private ownership at all?

We've seen some huge leaps in recent years: the Kelo decision allowing property to be taken from the lawful owner and given to a developer, for instance, or the declaration of property as environmentally sensitive and so not allowed to be developed.  We have the Cliven Bundy affair; Bundy had purchased grazing rights, which are in themselves a contractual interest.  We've seen government shut off water to farmers , or allow lands to be flooded, bankrupting farmers and forcing them off their lands.

Now we witness the imposition of licensing requirements for property owners.  The issuance of a license presupposes that government holds the rights and that the "owner" is being granted a privilege.

Read the bill here.

The bill is chock-full of "at the discretion of the Administrator."  What does that remind us of?  That's right: ObamaCare is full of this same discretionary empowerment of bureaucratic officials.

This law is an egregious violation of fundamental property rights.  For example, sec. 852.200 bans occupation of a property by anyone but the owner or anyone "Related to the owner of the property within the second degree of consanguinity."  But an exemption can be made (much like ObamaCare) at the discretion of the administrator.

In sec. 825.350, we learn that all occupancy permits will be revoked if the owner fails to file for a renewal of his license, thus forcing residents to vacate the property – without compensation for the cost of their move.

Section 825.450 is a doozie.  It reads:

825.450 - The Director may suspend or revoke a license issued pursuant to this Code upon the grounds specified in this section. Notice of the suspension or revocation shall be provided in writing and served upon the owner by means reasonably calculated to provide actual notice to the owner. ( i.) A license may be suspended if property is found by the Director to be out of compliance with the Property Maintenance Code and corrections are not made to bring the property back into compliance within thirty (30) days from the date of notice of non-compliance. (ii.) A license may be suspended if an owner makes • material false statements on a license application or declaration for exemption;  or fails to report a change of occupancy of any property owned or managed for which a license under this Code has been issued. (iii.) In the exercise of sound discretion by the Director, a license may be suspended or revoked if the owner has been notified by the Director of three (3) or more acts by occupants of licensed residential rental property which constitute a public nuisance. ( iv.) A license may be suspended for conviction of a misdemeanor, felony or ordinance violation by the owner or by occupants occurring on or about licensed residential rental property.  (v.) A license may be revoked if the owner has more than two (2) license suspensions in any twelve (12) month timeframe[.]

Get that?  The director is free to decide compliance, and the landlord is put in a catch-22.  He is unable by law to remove bad tenants except through the very slow legal process, yet he is held responsible for the actions of tenants.  And what of the tenants?  If their landlord should be convicted of, say, a DWI, they may be tossed off the property.

I ask you, who owns the property?  The landlord has duties specified here, but no real rights.  The tenants (who purchased the right to inhabit the property) have no rights.  It seems that St. Louis County has simply taken away the fundamental rights of a property owner.

If "A property right is the exclusive authority to determine how a resource is used," then how can we allow this usurpation? Government is granting itself this right. The owners are reduced to managers.

Like the proverbial frog in a pot of water, we have suffered the slow increase of heat, allowing our governments to degrade our freedoms incrementally.  Property is a fundamental right, and as such is bestowed by God and Natural Law, not by the beneficence of men in government.  St. Louis County should be ashamed of itself for this treachery.

Anyone wishing to register their displeasure can contact County Executive Charlie Dooley (D) at, or phone his office at (314) 615-7016 or (314) 615-5889.

Contact the County Council at (314) 615-5432, or obtain the e-mail addresses for councilmen here:

Tim is a realtor in the St. Louis metropolitan area.  Read more from Tim at The Aviary