Self-ordained minister says zoning laws don't apply to having sex offenders in his home

Tyler Richardson, Tri-City HeraldOctober 12, 2013 

A self-ordained minister who angered neighbors by housing more than 20 sex offenders in his home told Kennewick officials this week he doesn't have to comply with zoning laws.

Roger Reiboldt contends his work as a minister means he doesn't have to abide by city codes.

That's Reiboldt's response to a lawsuit Kennewick filed in July, claiming he misused his property at 1132 N. Arthur St.

Neighbors have complained to city and state officials about the house since 2009. They say Reiboldt's tenants make their neighborhood unsafe. At least 13 "high risk" offenders, in addition to other levels of sex offenders, have lived at the house.

The city contends Reiboldt -- leader of Steel against Steel Ministries -- violated city code by illegally renting his five bedroom house to a multitude of sex offenders.

Kennewick City Attorney Lisa Beaton said the city had not heard from Reiboldt since the suit was filed and officials were preparing to ask a judge on Friday to rule in their favor because they had received no response to the lawsuit.

But on Thursday Reiboldt contacted the city.

Reiboldt, who has said he now lives in Arizona, told city officials he never was served with the lawsuit.

The city claims he was served with the documents July 17.

"His assertion is he runs a ministry and therefore he is exempt from the city's zoning laws," Beaton told the Herald. "He had some other objections to the facts (in the lawsuit) that weren't too relevant."

Reiboldt could not be reached by the Herald on Friday but earlier this week he said just two offenders are left living in his house, which would comply with the law.

Beaton said she will drop the lawsuit if Reiboldt proves he is in compliance with city zoning laws.

However, if Reiboldt doesn't comply because he feels he is exempt from the laws, the city will seek an injunction, she said.

If a judge rules in the city's favor and Reiboldt rents his house illegally he could be held in contempt of court, she said.

The city has no authority to go into Reiboldt's house to check to see how many people are living there, Beaton said.

The only way officials can check his house is if Reiboldt gives them permission.

Kennewick police records show that three sex offenders are registered at Reiboldt's address. In July there were at least six offenders registered to live there.

When Beaton met with police more than three weeks ago, there were four sex offenders there, she said.

"We don't know how many people are living there," Beaton said. "It is entirely possible they are down to two."

Some of the offenders who have lived there in the past have been under state Department of Correction's supervision.

DOC provided offenders with vouchers up to $500 that they used to pay rent at Reiboldt's house.

Following a laundry list of complaints from neighbors, city officials asked DOC in a letter to stop placing offenders there.

Even though DOC pledged publicly to stop putting offenders there, they hadn't responded to the city's request until recently, Beaton said.

She met with DOC officials and was assured that Reiboldt would no longer be approved as a provider.

"DOC said they had two people under supervision that were at the end of their vouchers living there," Beaton said. "(DOC) said even after those offenders were done, they wouldn't issue anymore vouchers."

The city will do what it can in the coming weeks to determine if Reiboldt is in violation of city codes, Beaton said.

She said his recent response indicates he will not comply with zoning.

"Going forward we need closure," she said. "Either he will comply with zoning or he will assert the city has no control over him because he is running a ministry. I am not even sure what that entails."

-- Tyler Richardson: 582-1556; trichardson@tricityherald.com; Twitter: @Ty_richardson

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