On July 9, 2019, Missouri Governor Michael Parson signed into law Senate Bill 203, making it easier for individuals and neighborhood organizations in the City of St. Louis and Kansas City to combat nuisance properties using the court system. Thompson Coburn partner Paul M. Brown attended the bill signing ceremony in the Governor’s office at the invitation of State Senator Jamilah Nasheed, one of the sponsors of the bill.
Paul is the chair of Lawyers for City Neighborhoods, a committee of the Bar Association of Metropolitan St. Louis that drafted Senate Bill 203 and led the lobbying effort to convince the General Assembly to pass the bill. The bill was approved by the General Assembly last month with only 55 minutes remaining in the 2019 legislative session.
Senate Bill 203 makes significant changes to a statute Brown and other members of Lawyers for City Neighborhoods drafted and got passed into law five years ago granting individuals and neighborhood organizations in the City of St. Louis and Kansas City legal standing to enforce building codes and municipal ordinances against nuisance properties through private lawsuits. The statute has been used successfully since its passage (including by pro bono Thompson Coburn lawyers) to enjoin nuisances and recover damages for owners of neighboring properties. However, under the existing statute it was difficult for neighborhood organizations to meet the requirements of the statute for legal standing to bring such a lawsuit and most underserved urban neighborhoods lacked access to counsel to go to court.
With the passage of Senate Bill 203, it is now easier for neighborhood organizations to qualify for legal standing to bring a lawsuit under the statute. In addition, the amended statute makes clear that injunctive relief is available to enjoin a nuisance without a showing that the plaintiff suffered damage because of the nuisance. The most significant change to the statute is a new provision that authorizes the court to award attorneys’ fees to a prevailing plaintiff in an action against commercial and industrial properties. The potential for an award of attorneys’ fees will make it possible for underserved neighborhoods to hire counsel to represent them in lawsuits under the statute on a contingent fee basis.
Senate Bill 203 also includes a provision that authorizes residents of neighborhoods in the City of St. Louis and Kansas City to go onto the grounds of vacant buildings to pick up trash, clear weeds, and secure unsafe conditions for the protection of neighborhood property values.
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