NEW PORT RICHEY — In the eight years since George Romagnoli bought his home on Montana Avenue, he has seen his neighborhood and others around it deteriorate.
Some of the homes are aging, and there has been a troubling spike in rental properties and vacant homes where basic maintenance has fallen by the wayside. Romagnoli said that makes the city look old, run-down, and in many cases, blighted.
The time has come to hold landlords accountable for the condition of their properties, he said.
As Pasco County's community development manager, it's Romagnoli's job to help turn around foundering neighborhoods. Now he's volunteering his expertise to help New Port Richey come up with a rental inspection program to improve the standard of living in the city.
"You make time to help your community," he said. "Some people are really in some desperate living situations in this city."
Romagnoli said an ordinance establishing rental inspections would force landlords to keep up minimum standards on their properties. The program would be funded by an inspection fee paid by the landlords.
New Port Richey real estate broker Greg Armstrong applauds the idea. He, too, has offered to volunteer his time, calling on the city to create a committee to deal with the growing amount of rental properties in the city.
Two decades ago, Armstrong said, home ownership made up 80 percent of the housing landscape in New Port Richey.
Since then a major shift has occurred. The 2010 U.S. Census shows 41 percent of the homes in New Port Richey were rentals, while another 20 percent were vacant.
"We're at the danger point in order to avoid self-destruction," Armstrong said. "When you lose pride of ownership in the community it's a snowball effect."
New Port Richey already has a program that mandates all rental properties be registered with the city and pay a fee, but the measure is often ignored, Armstrong said. The city has about 1,000 registered rental properties with four or fewer units per parcel, according to city finance officials.
"Some people pay it, most don't," Armstrong said of the fees.
During a recent City Council meeting, City Manager John Schneiger said the increasing number of rentals needs to be addressed. "And it's especially helpful when people with expertise such as Mr. Romagnoli offer their help," he said.
Schneiger has directed city fire Chief Alex Onishenko and the building department to work with Romagnoli on the idea.
"We are hoping to have an ordinance to present to the City Council in September," Onishenko said.
Don House, of Indian Rocks, who owns several rental properties in the city, said he would have no problem with an inspection program. But he questioned whether New Port Richey — which is facing a budget crisis, with an estimated $17 million shortfall over the next five years — has the financial wherewithal to sustain such a program.
"It always looks good on paper," House said. "But how do you get it implemented? Who's going to enforce it?"