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Real estate agent accused in killings prompts new law

COLUMBIA, S.C./May 23, 2017 (AP) (StlRealEstate.News) — People who sell or manage property in South Carolina will have to undergo a background check to renew their license under a new law prompted by last November’s arrest of a real estate agent accused of killing seven people.

The law, signed Friday by Gov. Henry McMaster, requires real estate agents, brokers, property managers, and their supervisors to undergo a fingerprint-based check every third license renewal, or every six years.

“Hopefully, it will make people more secure,” Rep. Chip Huggins, R-Columbia, the bill’s main sponsor, said Monday. “This is the result of a terrible situation.”

The law takes effect in 2020.

Todd Kohlhepp was arrested after authorities said they found a woman who’d been missing since August chained by the neck in a storage container on his property in rural Spartanburg County. Authorities said they unearthed the remains of her boyfriend and another couple who disappeared in December. They also said Kohlhepp confessed to a 2003 cold case where four people were gunned down in a motorcycle shop.

Kohlhepp is charged with seven counts of murder, kidnapping, first-degree sexual assault and gun violations. According to the court roster, he is scheduled to be back in court Friday. Prosecutors declined to give details about the hearing.

Kohlhepp, a registered sex offender, received his South Carolina real estate license in 2006, before state law required background checks for real estate licenses.

As a teenager, Kohlhepp was convicted of raping a 14-year-old neighbor at gunpoint and threatening to kill her siblings if she called police. He was sentenced to 15 years and released from an Arizona prison in 2001.

On his 2006 South Carolina application, he checked the box acknowledging he had a felony conviction but lied in the explanation.

A 2014 state law requiring background checks took effect in May 2015 — for first-time applicants only.

Nick Kremydas, CEO of South Carolina REALTORS, said the law is a way to honor the victims.

“REALTORS were horrified by last year’s tragic events,” he said Monday. “We knew it was our responsibility to ask the Legislature to enact tougher laws to better protect the public.”

Once agents are in the Multiple Listing Service and given an electronic key, they “literally can walk in the front door of thousands of homes,” Kremydas said.

The law will apply to 48,000 people in real estate and property management in South Carolina — 63 percent of them real estate agents, according to the state Department of Labor, Licensing and Regulation.

What will happen when a crime surfaces in a renewal background check and whether any convictions will result in automatic license suspensions are not yet known. The state Real Estate Commission must develop the process, said Lesia Kudelka, spokeswoman for the licensing agency.

Huggins said he was shocked to learn how many state licenses are doled out without background checks. He plans to push next year for checks for other industry licenses.

“Hopefully, we can do a better job with making sure folks are checked before they’re working with the public,” he said.

SEANNA ADCOX, Associated Press