Pasco County is taking aim at a problem that crops up when a Pasco County Sheriff’s deputy arrives at a scene, and isn’t able to determine who owns the property, or who is authorized to be there.
The problem also occurs when the county can’t pin down a way to locate who’s responsible for code violations at a specific site.
To address those issues, the Pasco County Commission is considering a new ordinance that requires rental properties to be registered.
Senior Assistant County Attorney Kristi Sims is handling the ordinance for the County Attorney’s Office, and she appeared at the Pasco County Commission’s Jan. 7 meeting to give the commissioners a briefing.
At the same meeting, during the public comment portion, a number of speakers — representing real estate, property management and legal interests — offered their input on the proposed ordinance.
Jacob Bruynell, governmental affairs manager, Greater Tampa Realtors, raised concerns about a number of issues, including what would trigger the need for registering a property, some of the definitions included in the draft ordinance and when the new requirement would take effect.
He questioned the target effective date of March 1.
“This seems like an aggressive approach, as most citizens don’t know it’s coming and do not know if their properties fit the ordinance requirement,” Bruynell said.
He also questioned a provision that requires the designated property manager to have an office in Pasco County.
“We request that the ordinance allow property managers from neighboring counties,” he said.
Andrew Dougill, a professional property manager, also weighed in.
Dougill, a member of the board for the Tampa Bay chapter of the National Association of Residential Property Managers, said his group represents professional managers of single-family rental properties.
“Our organization is here to speak in favor of the rental registry ordinance. We recognize that the Sheriff’s department has a problem with vacant properties, with slumlords, so we’re very much in favor of that.
“We do have a couple of concerns with the ordinance as written,” he added.
“The first one is the requirement that the property manager maintains a business office in Pasco County. Many of the residential properties in Pasco County are managed by property managers in Hillsborough, Pasco and Hernando — so requiring a business office in Pasco County will cause thousands of current landlords in the county to lose their professional manager, which is obviously an unintended consequence and is not the intent of the ordinance,” Dougill said.
“The second issue we have is the definition of a property manager.
“As written, it seems to allow a property manager to be unlicensed, in violation of Florida statute. We suggest requiring the property manager to be licensed by the state, is the way to go,” Dougill added.
Licensing makes a difference
Carl Stratton, the broker of Dennis Realty and Dennis Property Management, told commissioners he has two offices in Pasco County.
He said his company currently manages about 500 units in Pasco, but also manages properties in Pinellas, Hernando, Citrus and Hernando counties.
Stratton also spoke in favor of lifting the requirement for property managers to have an office in Pasco.
He said it “would be a big hardship on thousands and thousands of owners, who have a trusted relationships with their property managers.”
Instead, he supports the idea that a property manager’s office be within a 50-mile radius of the property.
“I think that would be reasonable,” Stratton said.
Harry Heist, a landlord attorney, noted “the ordinance fails to define property manager.”
Heist went on: “A lot of people don’t realize that there’s two types of property managers out there in the world. There are licensed property managers who have real estate licenses that work under a broker and then there are unlicensed people.
“The unlicensed property managers who manage for absentee owners have caused a serious problem in Pasco County and all over Florida.”
Heist asked the county to amend the ordinance to define a property manager as someone who holds a license to manage property in Florida.
“We feel that it will cut down on a lot of problems and this is what will help the problems you are trying to address,” Heist said.
Sims addressed the issues later in the commission’s meeting.
“I had several meetings with some of the people who were here today, as well as other commercial realtors — people representing various groups that would be affected,” Sims told commissioners.
She said those discussions provided insights, which prompted her to recommend changes to the draft ordinance.
She told commissioners her briefing was intended to share the proposed revisions, so commissioners could react to them before the issue is brought to their Jan. 21 meeting for consideration.
Sims told the board: “I’ve come to understand that one of my big problems — and one of code enforcement’s big problems is — these illegitimate, non-licensed property managers: John Smith sticks an index card up in his window at the mobile home park and says he’s the property manager, but he’s not a licensed person. And that park is owned by an entity who is out of state, out of county, etc., etc..”
She’s recommending the definition of a property owner be changed to require it to be a licensed real estate broker.
She’s also recommending those licensed property managers could be from Pasco and abutting counties.
“We feel like we’re going to get responses from people who are holding a real estate license,” Sims said.
She also plans to recommend an April 1 effective date, though the system is expected to go live on March 1, so people would have access to it.
Additionally, Sims plans to bring back two follow-up ordinances. One would duplicate the state law that prohibits a person from acting as a property manager, without the proper licensure.
The other would require apartments, condos and commercial properties to have a permanently posted notice containing contact information for the property.
The proposed changes, she said, “takes out a lot of the people who aren’t really our problem. It takes out logistical issues for apartments and commercial realtors, who are dealing with tenants that may come in and out.
“And, I think is more narrowly tailored to address — at least at this point — to address what is our current focus and problem.”
Chase Daniels, assistant executive director, for the Sheriff’s Office said, “It gets us to where we want it to be. It still gives us the teeth we’re looking for.
“We certainly don’t want to impose on these groups that are doing the right thing.”
Commissioner Kathryn Starkey said she’s encouraged to see support for the ordinance.
“I agree with all of the little tweaks. They seem reasonable. We never wanted this to be onerous. But, we want to have a tool,” Starkey said.
Commissioner Mike Wells added: “All of these changes make sense. I appreciate your taking the time to meet with the stakeholders, over and over again, to listen to them.”
Commissioner Jack Mariano agreed: “You guys have done a great job, working together on this, getting the feedback from the public. We wanted to get an ordinance with some teeth in it, but at the same time not be too onerous.”
Published January 15, 2020