Tampa City Council to crack down on slumlords listen01/09/14 Janelle Irwin
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Hillsborough County government is under fire after a scathing report uncovered code violations where landlords received subsidies for housing homeless people. Now Tampa City Council members are considering tightening the belt on landlords to deal with rampant violations throughout the city. During a meeting Thursday, Jake Slater, head of the city’s neighborhood empowerment department, laid out plans to both register and grade owners of rental properties.
“Our total intent is to address the blight in the City of Tampa and we’re looking at the rental certificate program as a method for us to address one of those areas.”
As imagined by city staff, an ordinance would require landlords to register properties with a local point of contact. Those properties would then be inspected and graded. Earnest Mueller is an assistant city attorney.
“Those with the lower grade, the higher risk rental, we will be inspecting more often than those that have the higher grade. We also hope that a grading system like this will try and motivate landlords to get the higher grades so that they don’t have to be inspected as much.”
But the proposed program didn’t sit well with city council chair Charlie Miranda. He called the registration process unnecessary in an age where you can find just about anyone on the internet and through property records. Miranda also questioned whether the plan would address code violations as significantly as intended.
“In other words, we’re saying, from what I’ve heard so far in a very short statement, that only the owners of rental properties are creating this problem even though it wasn’t said that way. What is the total of 100% coming to and from where? Is it coming from a district? If it comes from the whole city, is it coming from one side of the city? Is it coming from rental properties in some parts of the city? I don’t know that.”
City staff are working on compiling those data. They already have information on nearly 14,000 single family properties – a number the neighborhood empowerment department thinks is probably much lower than the number of properties that are actually being rented. Tampa city council member Lisa Montelione said it’s the dishonest landlords who are probably the biggest code violators.
“In some cases are probably still claiming the Homestead exemption with the county property appraiser. So, they’re saying they live there, but they don’t. They rent it out, they’re not registering with the city and they don’t pay the business tax. Those probably are the largest problem we have.”
Montelione met with members of a Tampa realtor group to discuss the impacts of code violations on the real estate market.
“It affects their ability to sell homes or even those that are engaged in the rental business to move their product, their housing stock, because of some of the problems that are in the neighborhoods.”
A Tampa Bay Times investigation of landlords and Hillsborough County last year uncovered county staff didn’t respond to multiple pleas from homeless advocates. Landlords were housing people in deplorable conditions. In that case, those slumlords were collecting county subsidies, but not meeting code requirements. Tampa City Council member Yolie Capin said she wished the city had more properties with oversight like that of Section 8 rentals because those landlords are required to maintain certain standards or they just don’t get paid.
“Because when you rent and you get market value you can see where they would have to – that would help in keeping the properties up.”
In addition to tightening regulations on rental property owners, the city is also working on streamlining how code violations can be issued. Slater, with the neighborhood empowerment department, said solid waste employees are being cross trained to issue civil citations for things like yard overgrowth, excessive clutter and even immobile vehicles.
“I’m excited about this. This will give us five additional inspectors and a one overall supervisor. The enthusiasm has been great. The partnership has been wonderful and I feel very, very confident that it’s going to have an impact on the City of Tampa.”
Once those employees are trained, the city will continue training other workers who are in neighborhoods. The landlord registration and grading proposal will be workshopped on February 27. City staff expects to have a draft ordinance ready for that meeting.