Attorney Steve Myers, who has spent a lot of time talking about private property rights during his campaign to become East Baton Rouge Parish’s next mayor-president, is a defendant in two ongoing lawsuits claiming violations of the city-parish’s zoning ordinances.
Like the other mayoral candidates, Myers agrees that crime and traffic are key issues for the city-parish to address.
But what really fires him up when speaking to groups and at forums is talking about local laws that restrict who can reside together in a house within the parish.
Myers, a property manager who owns more than 40 properties parishwide, is being sued by the city-parish he hopes to lead over claims he violated zoning ordinances that forbid more than two unrelated people from living together in a house zoned A-1 — or single-family residential.
College students renting homes are most commonly targeted by this legislation.
A third lawsuit filed against Myers was dismissed because the residents were no longer living on the property at the time of the hearing.
Myers has since counter-sued the city-parish challenging the constitutionality of the ordinance.
“It’s a way of doing without saying that we don’t want rental properties or we don’t want to rent to students,” Myers said.
Myers said he’s running for mayor-president on this platform because he sees it as a symptom of a larger problem.
“This is the gradual erosion of civil liberties, it’s a slippery slope,” he said, comparing himself to civil rights leader Rosa Parks. “I’m in the minority. If you take the rights away from one minority, then another minority, then another minority, then eventually it affects the majority.”
He said the city-parish’s ordinance infringes on rights granted to Americans in the U.S. Constitution including “private property rights, the right to contract and the right to live with the people you want to live with.”
The three lawsuits involve properties in the University Gardens subdivision in the Southside neighborhood.
William Gladney, president of the Southside Civic Association, said Myers’ “concern for private property rights is very hypocritical” because Myers asserts that his rights as a landlord trump their rights as neighboring property owners.
Myers admits that he often rents to college students, but said he doesn’t ask them if they’re related because he said under the Fair Housing Act of the U.S. Constitution he isn’t allowed to “discriminate based on familial relationships.”
He said the provision is included in his lease, so his renters are aware of the law.
Maimuna Magee, assistant parish attorney, said in an email that the ordinance does not violate the Fair Housing Act because the legislation is designed to prevent the discrimination of “unorthodox” family structures, “such as single mother with children, grandmother with grandchildren, etc. All of which are permitted under our ordinance.”
Myers has said if he is elected mayor-president he would fight for private property rights and civil liberties and attempt to repeal local ordinances he deems frivolous.
The mayor-president doesn’t have unbridled authority to repeal laws, however.
Any changes to local ordinances would have to be voted on by the Metro Council, Magee said.
Myers admitted that his platform to protect private property rights is self serving, since he is a landlord.
“But so what if it is? Everyone votes based on self interest,” Myers said.
“Does it make it right or wrong just because I have a dog in the fight? Why do you think I care? It affects me.”
But even if Myers doesn’t win, he said he will continue his fight in court.
He said he feels confident in his case against the city-parish because he doesn’t know of a single case in Baton Rouge where a judge has awarded an injunction to the city-parish based on a violation of the zoning ordinance.
Magee said she did not know of any recent cases where injunctions had been awarded to the city-parish, adding that most times landlords correct the problem before a judge’s ruling is issued.
Myers will face Kip Holden, Mike Walker and Gordon Mese in the Nov. 6 primary.