The Metropolitan Omaha Property Owners Association has filed suit against the City of Omaha, alleging that a vacant property ordinance passed in 2015 is unconstitutional and violates a prior consent decree involving the city and the landlord group.
The federal lawsuit seeks to overturn the Vacant and Abandoned Property Ordinance, a measure aimed at motivating owners of abandoned properties to repair or sell them.
The ordinance requires owners of abandoned structures to register with the city and pay a quarterly fee. Abandoned structures are defined as those that are vacant, show signs of vacancy such as graffiti and have problems with title or code violations.
The complaint from the landlord group, also known as MOPOA, calls the ordinance an end-run around the more restrictive consent decree from 2015. In addition, the landlords say, the ordinance levies an unlawful tax on landlords — the quarterly registration fee.
The consent decree overhauled the city’s housing code enforcement and requires specific complaints to be filed before the city can inspect properties.
“We’ve received it. We’ve read through it,” said City Attorney Paul Kratz of the lawsuit. “We think our ordinances are in compliance with the consent decree, and the ordinance is there for the safety of the citizens of the city.”
The suit is filed on behalf of Omaha landlord Roosevelt Lee and other landlords affected by the ordinance.
The lawsuit says a rental that Lee owns near 45th and Hamilton Streets was deemed abandoned and placed on the registry, despite no official complaints being made to the city about the property.
The vacant property ordinance “was specifically designed to, does, and can, circumvent and undermine the provisions, protections, and due process requirements” of the consent decree, the lawsuit says.
The complaint names the city, Mayor Jean Stothert and several other current or former city officials.
MOPOA President John Chatelain did not return a message seeking comment.
The Mayor’s Office declined to comment on pending litigation.
World-Herald staff writer Aaron Sanderford contributed to this report.