Green Park will require residential inspections upon change of ownership or tenant

City waited too long to adopt new code, ex-alderman says

By BURKE WASSON

In an effort to more closely monitor the city’s housing stock, Green Park aldermen recently adopted an ordinance authorizing new regulations in its property-maintenance code.

The ordinance, which takes effect April 1, requires internal and external inspections of residential property upon a change of ownership or tenant.

Once that inspection is performed and the property has been favorably evaluated, the property owner then would be granted a reoccupancy permit.

Beginning July 1, St. Louis County will require inspections of residential property upon a change of ownership or tenant.

Mayor Steve Armstrong characterized the city’s new inspection ordinance as a way to “give us an opportunity to “give us an opportunity to get going and up and running before St. Louis County.”

But Ward 1 Alderman Judy Betlach, who was the only alderman to vote against the ordinance, said the city instead should start with regulating the problems it has with rental property before approving a broad residential-property-inspection ordinance like the one approved Dec. 18.

“I believe it should be rental only and start off with the rental,” Betlach said. “I disagree with being a guinea pig for county implementation. I think the problem here in Green Park is rental property. And we can always go and adopt the owner, the residential owners, later on. We’ve been lax in implementing the rental all this time.”

Former Ward 2 Alderman Fred Hoehn, who led the effort to incorporate the city, also questioned aldermen about why the city would pass the ordinance and allow county officials to perform the inspections.

“You can contract with the county, but you still do not have effective enforcement,” Hoehn said. “That’s why it hasn’t been enforced until now. You have to be proactive and you have to have someone in the city do that or contract somebody.

“The city standards should exceed the county standards. If you’re ever going to build anything, you’re going to have to show something beyond county standards.”

Hoehn also pondered how effectively the new residential-inspection requirements would be enforced if county officials perform them.

“Do you enforce this through fines?” Hoehn said. “Do you take people to court? I don’t think it’s out of order to put those kinds of things into this unless (City Attorney) Paul (Rost) thinks it’s unwise to do that so people have some idea where they’re headed.”

In response to Hoehn’s concerns, Ward 1 Alderman Bob Reinagel said he believes the new code essentially would enforce itself because no new property owner can be granted a reoccupancy permit unless a favorably graded inspection has been performed.

“It would seem to me that if we put this in and agree to the occupancy permits, it’s almost, to a degree, that part of it is self-enforcing,” Reinagel said. “Because until someone comes up and meets the inspection criteria, they can’t get an occupancy permit. So it would seem that’s the first step in enforcing this.”

But Hoehn later countered during the board’s Dec. 18 meeting that the city waited too long to pass the new property-maintenance code and believes too much damage already has been done by allowing rental properties throughout the city to deteriorate.

“You’re already too late, too, on this rental thing,” Hoehn said. “It will take years to correct the damage that’s been done. And your answer to it is let the county do it. Give me a break, will you?”

“What do we do as a city?” Ward 2 Alderman Jackie Wilson responded. “Hire an inspector?”

“You’re damn right you do,” Hoehn answered. “That’s exactly what you do. You’ve got the right answer. Go for it. That’s exactly what you do. And you raise the standards and you make it happen and you build something here.”

“Because I know now we turned it into the county,” Wilson said. “But we can’t control when they do it.”

“No kidding,” Hoehn said. “That’s what I’m trying to tell you. You’ve got to take it in house and get the job done. I like that, Jackie. You’re using your head now.”

To help pay for the cost of hiring a property inspector, Hoehn suggested that aldermen could use the city’s surplus of more than $3 million.

“When are the residents going to get the benefit of some of their taxes?’ Hoehn said to the board. “Instead of putting it in all of these accounts and drawing this low interest. Let’s start speeding up and replace streets and things such as that. This is not a private corporation. This is people’s taxes.

“That’s why we incorporated — to make things better. I hope you’ll consider that. Up until now, it doesn’t look like you have.”