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New Port Richey rethinks program to inspect residential rental properties

NEW PORT RICHEY — To the delight of some landlords, the city is moving away from a residential rental inspection program explored as an effort to combat the deterioration of properties in the city.

City staff looked into creating the program in light of complaints from residents over the aging, and in many cases deteriorating, housing stock in the city.

In recent years the city took a double punch to the gut, with the 2010 U.S. Census showing 41 percent of the homes in New Port Richey were rentals, while another 20 percent were vacant. The Pasco property appraiser also reported this year an 11 percent decrease in property values.

The census report led New Port Richey resident George Romagnoli, who also serves as Pasco County community development manager, to offer his expertise on a volunteer basis in crafting a rental inspection ordinance that would provide more oversight of rental properties falling into disrepair.

But after looking into the idea, and consulting with Romagnoli, city staff decided against moving forward with the project, citing opposition from area landlords and budget constraints of creating and enforcing such a program.

An ordinance already on the books mandates landlords pay a yearly rental fee of $35 per property and requires that their properties be up to city housing code, New Port Richey fire Chief Alex Onishenko reported to the City Council during a recent work session. The fee is paid essentially on the honor system, though code enforcement officials investigate to make sure it is collected if they are working on a complaint.

For landlords who don't comply, the plan is now for increased code enforcement on rental properties. The city is poised to hire a second code enforcement officer using an $80,000 Community Development Block grant secured this year, the chief said.

With the city's financial constraints and the recent departure of City Manager John Schneiger, Romagnoli said he agrees with the decision and is glad the city is looking at combating troubled rental properties with increased code enforcement.

"I think they see it's a problem. There are different roads to getting things done," Romagnoli said. "I want the city cleaned up just like they do."

Don House, of Indian Rocks Beach, owns several rental homes in New Port Richey, and also said the city made the right call.

"It's kind of surprising, actually, because they usually try to squeeze as many fees as they can out of you," he said. "They really weren't prepared to enforce it anyway. The city knows what the problem properties are, and they can be handled by code enforcement."

For local landlord Krista Holtzclaw, another fee would have been a strain.

"Enough is enough," she said. "We're paying a majority of the property taxes keeping the city afloat anyway."

New Port Richey rethinks program to inspect residential rental properties 10/18/12 [Last modified: Thursday, October 18, 2012 8:46pm]
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