Sunday, November 18, 2012

St. Louis officials enlist Bar Association in problem property crackdown

City officials plan to enlist private lawyers for added legal muscle in their fight against problem and nuisance properties.

The Bar Association of Metropolitan St. Louis is organizing a group of lawyers who will work for free with city attorneys on the Problem Properties Task Force, officials announced Friday.

The Bar Association of Metropolitan St. Louis
The task force was formed more than a decade ago to crack down on dilapidated properties or those that otherwise cause or attract trouble in their neighborhoods.

A team of seven attorneys from the city counselor's office has led the effort to date. City officials are hoping the new partnership will bring in dozens of lawyers, who can help bring resistant property owners to court and review and strengthen the city's ordinances.

"Rundown properties and nuisance properties can bring down a whole block," Mayor Francis Slay said at a news conference in his office.

The task force, he added, has "played a key role in the renaissance of our city, but we know there's a lot more to do."

Last year, the task force sent out just more than 2,000 cease-and-desist letters to landlords for nuisance issues, said Matthew Moak, an associate city counselor. The problems can range from loud parties to overcrowding - things that bring down the quality of life in a neighborhood.

Police issued about 1,800 nuisance summons to those who ignored the initial letter.

And the task force held more than 2,500 meetings with property owners, Moak said.

Every year, he said, the task force brings about 1,000 run-down properties into compliance with the city's health and public safety codes.

The private lawyers will be helping with the most resistant property owners - those whom the city decides to take to court.

Private lawyers
The work mostly pertains to ordinance violations brought in municipal court, but the city can also bring public nuisance actions in St. Louis Circuit Court for stubborn cases, said City Counselor Patti Hageman.

Heather Hays, president of the bar association, said the city's private attorneys "want to make their neighborhoods better, and want to make their community better."

In response to a question, Slay rejected any notion that the partnership might be a breeding ground for political favors.

Tom Minogue of the Thompson Coburn firm, which has already signed on some of its lawyers, said pro bono work is just part of the job, and here, the lawyers get to help better the city.

"It's a higher calling to be a lawyer, and that's part of our calling," he said.

By Jennifer Mann,, 314-621-5804

Source: The Stltoday

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