SIKESTON - Sikeston landlords say the city's "no tolerance" ordinance for yard maintenance is unfair.
After concluding business listed on the agenda for Monday's regular City Council meeting, Council members and city staff received comments and discussed for nearly 90 minutes the city's policy of ticketing property owners along with renters for property maintenance violations.
Dickie Dockins of Sikeston said landlords should get notification of some sort before getting a ticket, "even if it's a five-day notice." He said as it is now, if he inspects his rental property at 10 a.m. and his tenant dumps a couch out in the yard at 11 a.m., he is likely to end up with a ticket.
Those doing construction, Dockins said, are also getting tickets when Johnson grass springs up on piles of dirt.
City Manager Doug Friend said even with the two-week lag between when a violation is cited and the court date, in many cases "the grass continues to grow."
Friend said that if there is a reasonable explanation the violation, to contact Trey Hardy, community redevelopment coordinator.
"We have dismissed a number of complaints," Friend said. "We have dismissed a number each week."
Mayor Mike Marshall said the ordinance is black and white, but Council members realize the real world has shades of gray. Those with a "legitimate beef" should contact Hardy, he also advised.
Friend added that if they did allow five days, some people would find a way to make that 10 or 15 days. He said in the past there were landlords who managed to get by with only mowing their properties twice in a summer.
Lewis May of Sikeston said he believes landlords are backed into a corner and they need to find a way to work things out with the city.
He said the problem is the tenants. "We can't even collect our rent," May complained. "We have no power over these people."
Going through due process to evict a tenant means three months of lost rent, he said.
Councilman Jerry Pullen said city officials knew there would be difficulties with the ordinance. "On the other hand, it's getting this town cleaned up," he said, noting over 100 derelict cars were removed from the city as a result.
Gary DeWitt of Sikeston said he didn't like the occupancy permits. "The landlords are under a lot of scrutiny," he said.
"Do away with (the ordinance), start again," demanded Louie Griffin of Sikeston.
"You as a landlord are responsible for your tenants," Marshall said. He said doing background checks on tenants and checking on property is the responsibility of the property owners and the city will not be property managers for landlords.
Arnold Stone of Sikeston related how the yard of an empty house he owns "acquired 31 tires overnight," resulting in a $135 ticket for him.
Councilman Phil Boyer said: "It looks to me like the judge needs to have some discretion."
Sue Rogers, former Council member, said she manages 90 properties. Conducting extensive background checks, she said she turns down 30 percent of rental applicants.
She said those who make the choice to be a landlord must take the responsibility that comes with it and suggested those who have tenants who trash their properties should have checked out their renters beforehand.
Wendell Sanders of Sikeston said he understands that landlords should be ticketed for the condition of the structure, but not for how tenants keep the yard. "That's something we can't control," he said.
Marshall asked Hardy to communicate and work with landlords on property maintenance issues.
Council members said they would review the ordinance but offered no timeframe for when landlords could expect them to reach a decision when pressed by Griffin.
In business from the agenda addressed during the meeting:
* A bill formalizing the agreement between the city and Southeast Missouri State University for the 10,900-square-foot classroom expansion at the Sikeston Area Higher Education Center was approved. The agreement has already been approved by the university's Board of Regents and was passed as an emergency measure so the project can move forward without delay.
Funding for the improvements will be provided by the 1-cent general sales tax adopted by Sikeston's voters in February as well as surplus funds from the tax which financed the original construction of SAHEC.
Targeted for completion in December 2005, the new facilities are estimated to cost $2.18 million. The expansion will consist of four additional classrooms, a computer lab and child development center.
In related business, the Council appointed Council members Jim Terrell and Boyer to fill the Council's two seats on the Design Review Committee for the expansion.
* A resolution accepting the final draft of the Natural Hazard Mitigation Plan prepared by the Bootheel Regional Planning and Economic Development Commission was passed by the Council.
By participating in this plan, the city is eligible for future emergency mitigation assistance in the case of a natural disaster, Friend said.
* A resolution to sponsor the application for the Community Development Block Grant by the Land Clearance for Redevelopment Authority was adopted.
Friend said the resolution is the last item requested by the Missouri Department of Economic Development.
A total of $155,000, the maximum permissible under regulations, was requested. The funds are for the demolition of the old First Baptist Church building on South Kingshighway and three vacant and dilapidated houses.