Landlords rail against Gainesville’s extensive rent inspection program

A City of Gainesville program that was designed to inspect rental properties for safety and energy efficiency standards cited landlords for many ornamental details like door paint and landscaping, according to records. ‘inspection.

The owners are so unhappy that they have hired a lawyer to sue the city.

The more than 500 inspections that have taken place since October 1 include a mix of violations.

Some were potential life safety violations, such as the lack of working fire alarms and unsafe wiring.

But many of the violations are not life-threatening, such as toilets and showerheads that the city says use too much water.

Landlords and property managers in Gainesville complain that the violations go far beyond the program’s stated intent to ensure homes are energy efficient and safe.

They’ve hired local attorney Jeff Childers, who said he’s preparing a class action lawsuit to be filed against the city on the grounds that the inspections infringe on homeowners’ rights.

“The city fell in love with the warrants,” said Childers, who successfully won a legal challenge against the city of Gainesville over its mandatory COVID-19 injections for employees.

Childers said inspectors with the Rental Housing Inspection Program, who were formerly University of Florida students working for a consulting firm in South Florida, randomly named alleged violations of the law on inspection of rental units.

“I don’t think it’s going to fly. We’re going to challenge it,” Childers said.

Childers said the city’s program “is a form of regulatory grabbing without due process.”

“You never get due process on this on an individual basis,” he said. “When the inspectors come in and ask a homeowner to pay $6,000 for improvements, where is the place for a proper appeal?”

He said another constitutional argument is whether inspectors have the right to enter homes without tenant approval.

“I mean, they have a right to privacy,” he said.

Landlords say inspections have in some cases cost landlords thousands of dollars, which are passed on to tenants in the form of higher rent.

They also said — and code enforcement investigation reports confirm this — that inspectors ordered landlords to take steps to improve the aesthetic appearance of rental units.

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So far, no landlord has been fined for breaking city law, but some cases where landlords failed to obtain rental permits have been escalated to a special magistrate, Andrew said. Persons, director of the sustainable development department of Gainesville.

“In short, the ordinance includes minimum housing and property maintenance code standards, which cover things like peeling paint, cracks and deterioration, vegetation,” it said. -he declares. “In other words, the ordinance covers more than life safety and energy efficiency.”

But Gainesville City Commissioner Cynthia Chestnut said she’s concerned the city is going so far with inspections.

“I think it’s worth going back to review,” she said.

Commissioner Adrian Hayes-Santos said he was disappointed that “some landlords don’t want to have properties that meet minimum housing standards for housing”.

Landlords and property managers say they are fed up with the way the city has been enforcing the ordinance since it was launched Oct. 1.

When commissioners initially discussed passing inspections, they said tenants deserved to live in rentals with adequate energy-efficiency features, such as decent insulation, to lower their electric bills.

But landlords say any savings on energy bills are offset by rent increases that landlords simply pass on to tenants.

By law, landlords must pay $122 per unit per year for a rental permit. Inspections cost an additional $100.

“I think it’s too far,” said real estate agent Martin Misner.

Misner said he wasn’t opposed to life safety code inspections, but the city’s inspections went way beyond that.

None of the older homes that were inspected meet the new insulation standards, which means the homeowner in each case has to pay for expensive new insulation, he said.

Misner said landlords can offer cheaper rent in older homes, but once they have to shell out those dollars, they just raise the rent.

It’s unfair for the city to require the owner of a home built in the 1960s to have the same insulation as one built in the 2020s, Misner said.

“What next? Double-glazed windows? he said. “Are they going to have me rip my roof off because you want to see a radiant barrier underneath? Are you going to have me rewire my house because it’s been wired in 1960s?”

Elliot Larkin, owner of Harmony Habitats Realty & Property Management, also said the city’s inspections went far beyond the intent of the program.

“It was a nightmare for the owner,” he said.

However, the city’s program has won praise from the US Department of Energy, which in May presented the city with an award for innovation. In particular, the award commended the city’s use of a national energy efficiency rating system during inspections.

Like the miles per gallon rating for a vehicle, the Home Energy Score is a numerical rating from 1 to 10 that helps homeowners, buyers and renters understand the energy efficiency of a home or rental unit and how it compares to other accommodations. . The score is based on a unit’s “envelope” – roof, foundation, walls, insulation and windows – as well as its energy systems – heating, cooling and hot water. The higher the score, the higher the energy efficiency of a unit.

“With each inspection, we strive to help raise living standards and ensure consistent minimum housing requirements in Gainesville so neighbors can live safely,” Persons said. “As rental property owners and managers make improvements, the scores will reflect that.”

Madeline Salzman, DOE Home Energy Score program manager, said rental properties are particularly underserved in terms of amenities and efficiency programs.

“Often, low-income tenants who face high energy loads have great potential to benefit from efficiency improvements,” Sazlman said. “Home Energy Score can help the City of Gainesville identify energy consumption trends and opportunities for energy efficiency improvements in rental properties.”

Effective October 1, the city ordinance required that attics be insulated to a minimum of R-19.

Under the ordinance, the plumbing system in rental units must be free of visible leaks.

All toilets must be a three gallon tank, with a 1.6 gallon tank in 2026.

The city of Gainesville was using CAP Government, Inc., based in Coral Cables, to conduct these inspections virtually with the help of University of Florida students who visited homes.

Mayor Lauren Poe said that “in response to constructive feedback from owners, the city voted to remove inspection responsibilities from CAP and bring inspections back in-house.”

So far, more than 500 rental units have been inspected, and about 80% of them have had at least one violation.

The violations were very diverse. An inspection report of a home on West University Avenue owned by James Liebl revealed a long list of violations, stating that parts of the structure “show signs of deterioration, the wood siding deteriorating, some walls unanchored, level and free of holes”. , cracks or breaks or loose and rotting materials. »

The report also states that the surface of the house “has peeling, peeling, or flaking paint.”

But the inspector found only one violation at Patricia Driscoll’s home – a shower head that did not comply with the new rules.

The city sent the Weirsdale resident a letter of violation for the showerhead on March 22, telling her it would cost her an additional $100 for a follow-up inspection.

Another violation cited during an inspection of a home on Southwest First Avenue states that inspectors could not confirm that the showerheads had a flow rate of 2.2 gallons per minute, and they could not confirm if the faucet has an aerator with a flow rate of 2.2 gallons per minute.

An inspection of a home on Northeast 10th Place indicates that the unit was missing a smoke detector and the electrical wiring was not properly installed and maintained in the kitchen in a safe manner.

A 75-year-old retiree who owns nine rental homes in Gainesville, said two of his homes had been inspected and he said the hassle prompted him to sell the other seven.

The owner said he did not want to be named for fear that the inspectors would hold something against him.

Even after he and his wife did some of the work to fix the violations, he still ended up shelling out several thousand dollars for insulation, a new toilet, door repairs, painting, and setting up. new wood outside the house. He said he was even ordered to blow the leaves off the roof.

And he said when the inspector came for a follow up, he found other violations.

“They came out with a huge list of (violations),” he said.

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