Monday, June 21, 2010

Showdown in Missouri

Some time ago I first wrote about an action filed by Kansas City Premier Apartments in a Missouri state court, seeking clarity on licensing issues raised by the Missouri Real Estate Commission.

The case is set for trial later this week. Here's a cute piece produced by KCPA driving home its point that criminal sanctions are entirely inappropriate in this context.  KCPA has been threatened, among other things, with prosecution under Section 339.170, RSMo, which makes it a Class B misdemeanor (punishable by up to six months in prison) to knowingly violate any of the prohibitions relating to the communication of real estate information.

Want to learn more?  Here's an op-ed recently penned by KCPA's President:

Real Estate Commission Criminalizes Helpful Advice

Can you believe that your own mother might be considered a criminal for helping you find a suitable apartment? That’s the position taken by the head of the Missouri Real Estate Commission (MREC), the government agency currently trying to ensure that people must pay a licensed real estate broker if they want help finding information about rental opportunities.

Years ago, I started Kansas City Premier Apartments (KCPA), a business designed to help people access a vast amount of useful information about renting in Kansas City, including a website with a searchable database of available rental units and a customer service team familiar with Greater Kansas City to help answer prospective renters’ questions, set appointments, and provide driving directions. All of our informational services are offered at no charge to the prospective renters.

The website quickly attracted the attention of people worldwide looking for just the sort of assistance we offer, helping them avoid the stress and uncertainty that frequently accompanies the search for a new rental home. Many have offered testimonials praising our services and, to our knowledge, no one we have assisted has ever expressed dissatisfaction with the information our company provided them. But, unfortunately, our business also attracted the attention of the MREC, which has asked a local court to prevent us from providing our informational services.

Fortunately, Americans enjoy constitutional protections for our freedom to exchange information and opinions – and KCPA is fighting to ensure that everyone will continue to enjoy these freedoms. The First Amendment of the United States Constitution denies governments the authority to make laws “abridging the freedom of speech.” Furthermore, the United States Supreme Court has previously recognized that this protects not only the rights of speakers who would share truthful, non-misleading information, but also the rights of those interested in hearing that information. Interpreting the First Amendment, courts have also held that governments are not generally permitted to pick and choose who is permitted to share a particular type of information. Missouri’s constitution offers even broader protections, stating that speech cannot be restricted “no matter by what means communicated; that every person shall be free to say, write, or publish, or otherwise communicate whatever he will on any subject, being responsible for all abuses of that liberty.”

We asked the MREC to explain how the useful information we provide could be considered an “abuse” of our constitutional freedoms. Rather than offering a substantive answer, the MREC responded that our question was “not relevant”. Fortunately, government bureaucrats do not have the final say in whether our constitutional freedoms can be so flippantly disregarded. We are both hopeful and confident that when the judge considers this matter, he will rule that all Missourians must remain free to enrich each others’ lives through the communication of useful information and ideas.

Tiffany Lewis is the President of Kansas City Premier Apartments, Inc.