MADEIRA BEACH — Starting next spring, all owners of small rental properties may have to undergo inspection and approval to qualify for a business license.
Without such a license, it would be illegal to rent out a home or multifamily complex of four units or less. Larger rental complexes are governed by similar state laws.
Commissioner Elaine Poe, who is quickly becoming one of the commission's strongest advocates for cleaning up the city, proposed the ordinance, which is scheduled for a vote in November and December.
"We are building a new City Hall. There is going to be a new restaurant and a new hotel. We are going to be inundated with people, and we need to clean up the city," Poe said Friday.
In a workshop discussion this month, Poe reminded members that too often residents "don't notice" what visitors see when driving every day on Gulf Boulevard or in neighborhoods.
"The whole idea is to hold property owners responsible for cleaning up their units," Poe said.
She said she discovered how widespread the issue is while researching criminal activity in residential areas.
"The (sheriff's) deputies are really excited about this. They feel it will cut down on crime in the city," she said.
Building and health code violations in small rental units are mostly discovered by law enforcement responding to domestic disturbance or related calls.
City Manager Shane Crawford said the deputies, who also handle code enforcement for the city, have cited landlords for electrical wiring problems, "roaches crawling on baby cribs," moldy ceilings and rotting steps.
"Quite frankly, we have some places where people really shouldn't be living," he said.
He also stressed that the new ordinance will not hurt "responsible landlords."
Poe said that one tenant has called her nearly half a dozen times because she can't reach a landlord about a faulty power outlet.
"Every time she gets within a few inches of the outlet, she gets shocked," Poe said.
The new rental licensing program will allow the city to collect contact information for landlords and information about their properties.
The proposed ordinance, which the commission will discuss again at its Oct. 22 workshop, would apply to rental properties with four or fewer units. The fees for licensing could exceed several hundred dollars, depending on the number of inspections required.
"Inspections of rental units is a growing trend across the state," said Crawford, adding that the inspections might be combined with required fire inspections.
Mayor Travis Palladeno added: "We might be saving someone's life by making sure that a place is safe and not going to catch on fire."