Landlords Facing Illegal Resident Law?

Landlords facing illegal resident law?

By Richard Mize
Real Estate Editor
Wed November 14, 2007

State Rep. Randy Terrill wants police and prosecutors to be able to seize and liquidate the property of people who give aid and comfort to illegal residents the same type of civil procedure used to complement criminal drug cases.

But some property owners don't like his position one bit.

“Is this Oklahoma? Is this America? Is this what we're headed for? I don't think that's fair, Cliff McBeth said.

Nonetheless, such a law is next on the legislative agenda for the Moore Republican who has made a national name for himself in efforts to deal with illegal immigration while providing a model for other states in House Bill 1804, which went into effect Nov. 1.

“Son of HB 1804, some call the next big measure.

“The rule of law, and our sovereignty, are not for sale and they're not for rent, Terrill said.

The idea is “further along than the conceptual stage but not fleshed out and ready for drafting, Terrill said, but the aim is to give authorities power to go to court to seize the real estate and other property of people convicted of “harboring, transporting, concealing or sheltering illegal residents.

He said giving authorities the ability to go after real estate civilly wouldn't be that far removed from the power they have now under the drug laws. Property can be seized now, he said, if a property owner knew methamphetamine was being made on the premises.

s this America?'
But McBeth has had enough of such talk. McBeth, who owns more than a dozen rent houses in Oklahoma City, said it's unfair to treat landlords like real traffickers of illegal residents.

“As far as rentals, I'm probably not going to own any rentals a year from now, he said, insisting that the new law already creates burdens that some landlords can't afford to carry.

Add the possibility of losing their property, and many commercial property owners will sell out, McBeth said.

“This is not just about me, said an angry McBeth. “Older people who are relying on rental income to help supplement Social Security they may have one house or 10 now they're going to be faced with being the Border Patrol!

“(Terrill) is saying it's like a pickup load of (illegals) on the street.

Ridiculous, Terrill said.

“That's just preposterous. We require him to make sure tenants are not manufacturing drugs in his rental property, the lawmaker said, and any landlord who doesn't know that doesn't understand the obligations property owners already have under the law.

“You're going to have some who are going to cry and whine about it being burdensome when it, in fact, is not, Terrill said.

Terrill said his own in-laws own rental property around Duncan and Comanche and have already redrawn the lease agreements they use to meet the requirements of HB 1804.

Anyone complaining, Terrill said, doesn't want to ask hard questions of potential tenants for fear of losing the rental income.

Renting as acketeering'
State Sen. Anthony Sykes of Moore said the next law will be aimed at a system that perpetuates “exploitation of illegal aliens in situations that amount to “racketeering operations.

“There are certain landlords who basically all they rent to is illegal aliens, or at least they target that population, Sykes said.

Sykes said allowing property seizures in civil cases against lawbreaking landlords and other property owners would do three things:

Provide another tool for ridding the state of illegal residents by targeting property owners who rent to them, protect illegal residents now being exploited by landlords who now have them “over a barrel with “illegal contracts and help pay for enforcement of the new laws.

That last thing more money for law enforcement to enforce the laws probably won't be as sure or as plentiful as the lawmakers hope, said Dennis A. Smith, chairman of the Oklahoma District Attorneys Council and the D.A. for Beckham, Custer, Ellis, Roger Mills and Washita counties.

Property rights at issue
“To be able to rely on something like that is really a pipe dream. You don't know whether those types of situations are going to exist in your jurisdiction or not, Smith said from his office in Arapaho. “Strictly speaking, law enforcement agencies are like anyone else in the public sector we're trying to do the most with the least. Asset forfeiture is not a big piece of my budget. But obviously, if it's available, we use it.

However, Smith said property seizure wouldn't necessarily be as certain as its proponents might want depending on how a bill is written and changed during the legislative process.

Civil forfeiture of real estate “is scrutinized very closely by the courts, as it should be, the prosecutor said. “Obviously, there are lots of issues out there anytime you talk about seizing people's property. That's one of the constitutional safeguards of this country.

Constitutional protections would not be threatened with a carefully crafted law, Terrill said.

“We're in an area that is clearly within the scope of state authority, he said.

Sykes said he thought lawmakers would be ready, by the next session, to take the next step in dealing with illegal immigrants.

Terrill chastised landlords who rent to illegal residents and those who sell houses to them or loan money to them for not being “good corporate citizens, and said that people should keep “small but vocal groups of opponents to the state's crackdown in perspective.

“Don't mistake that for the voice of the people of Oklahoma, he said.