Press "Enter" to skip to content

Opinion: Legislature can help revive Missouri communities through land banks, updated law

It’s a sad sight in too many Missouri communities; houses and commercial buildings are abandoned, neglected, tumbling down, and boarded up. Not only could these buildings be eyesores, but they can be dangerous and ultimately, drive down the value of nearby properties.

In a dream world, it would be wonderful if every house had a loving owner, carefully tending to the property’s structure, safety, and appearance. Well-cared-for and marketable homes are the basis of strong and inviting neighborhoods, which contribute to thriving communities.

As a Missouri REALTOR®, I of course have an abiding interest in helping families turn houses into homes, but I also want to see the revival of shuttered commercial buildings into prosperous businesses that fulfill the owners’ vision of serving customers. Both tactics deliver improvements to a local community by generating revenue by the new owners paying their fair share of taxes to support local community services.

This isn’t just some idyllic vision for these properties. The very future of Missouri communities depends on providing enough affordable, safe, desirable housing, including revitalizing and repurposing currently abandoned, neglected, and unsafe properties into marketable and desirable homes and businesses.

This is a matter of urgency, public safety, economics, and common sense. That is why Missouri REALTORS® statewide are backing legislation now awaiting action in the General Assembly to unlock the positive potential of dilapidated properties by updating existing law to add flexibility and options in best-serving communities.

The proposals are Senate Bill 750 and House Bill 2065, which have similar language and goals in bringing current law up to date, expanding the viability for all local governments over 1500 population to establish land banks, which will put abandoned properties on a positive path toward new and needed uses.

These bills would update the unwieldy legal process through which abandoned and tax-delinquent properties are sold at auction. Most importantly, Land Banks make these properties more desirable for buyers by ensuring the titles are clean of any deal-breaking clouds or defects in the chain of title as well as making the property free of past owners’ tax obligations.

Right now, those who buy properties at a foreclosure auction become detectives, tracking down past owners in an attempt to resolve tax lien and title issues before they have a marketable title and property. It’s a painstaking process that can take months or years. All the while, the properties remain vacant and continue to decay.

Pending legislation would make certain that titling and delinquent tax issues are resolved by local officials and courts through updated processes, so buyers can focus on revitalizing their properties once they buy them, rather than working as a title detective.

The legislation also provides that every county in Missouri can make local decisions if they choose to establish land banks – a sort of protective custody for any abandoned properties foreclosed for delinquent taxes or when the title is clouded for other reasons. The proposals being considered would ensure such properties have clear titles and no tax delinquencies, so they may be ready for a marketable sale, and per local decisions, they can be assembled into flexible clusters or sold individually.

For local governments, this would be an optional – not mandatory – tool for revitalizing old, neglected, or abandoned properties.

This is the sort of welcome flexibility that can be customized for a specific local property situation, leaving decision-making with locally accountable officials. The legislation’s updates to current laws on court-ordered property sales will also make the properties more attractive to buyers.

Versions of this legislation have been introduced in past years but have never made it into law.

This year, Missouri REALTORS® urge our General Assembly to give every county updated tools to revive our old, abandoned properties and secure a bright future for our communities and their residents.

To learn more, please visit