Owner Elusive as Over 200 St. Louis Homes Crumble

City efforts to force repairs at hundreds of deteriorating St. Louis, Mo., homes remain stymied as the property owner’s identity is shrouded in mystery.

The St. Louis Post-Dispatch reported Sunday that the Urban Assets LLC holding company owns more than 200 distressed houses on the city’s north side. Many have multiple code violations, outstanding fines and unpaid tax penalties.

“They’re completely unaccountable,” said historic preservationist Michael Allen. “They’re not meeting any of their legal obligations and they’re just degrading (city) blocks.”

The holding company’s registered agent is real estate broker Harvey Noble, who signs the company’s property deeds. Noble said he is bound by confidentiality to not disclose the owner’s identity.

“I’ve got nothing to say to you,” Noble told a Post-Dispatch reporter. “I’ve been in north city for 50 years. There’s buildings that are collapsed a lot worse than that.”

The city is trying to sell dozens of Urban Assets’ houses at nuisance property auctions after the company failed to pay property taxes. Only one has sold so far.

At the same time, the city has paid a company formed by Noble and business partner Steve Goldman nearly $450,000 since 2008 to appraise property for its Land Reutilization Authority – the land bank where many Urban Assets properties are destined once they’re seized by the city.

City officials who are accustomed to vacant buildings with overgrown grass and boarded windows said they have been prevented in their attempts to hold Urban Assets accountable since soon after Noble filed paperwork creating the company in 2008 and then bought cheap houses and empty lots at the city sheriff’s tax auctions, most for just a few thousand dollars each.

“It’s almost impossible for us to keep fighting them in court when they don’t show up,” said Matt Moak, a city attorney who handles nuisance properties. “I can’t go and arrest ‘Urban Assets.”‘

City officials said the company owes hundreds of thousands of dollars in fines, fees, judgment and taxes. Goldman said he and Noble haven’t been paid by their mystery client since 2009.

Some observers wonder if developer Paul McKee, whose NorthSide redevelopment project used a similar strategy to obtain hundreds of parcels and was also represented by Noble, is behind Urban Assets. But McKee has repeatedly denied involvement, as have brothers Michael and Steve Roberts, also prominent developers in town.