TAMPA — South Tampa landlord Kevin Kladakis is adamant.
He rents apartments at his Palma Ceia four-plex at 3110 W San Carlos St. His tenants might have roommates, he says, but it is not a rooming house.
Last week, however, a special magistrate reached a different conclusion after neighbors of Kladakis' property packed a code enforcement hearing to testify against him.
Homeowners complained of high turnover as renters come and go monthly, even weekly. They said Kladakis' tenants have been loud, gotten into fights, walked around with open beers, hauled mattresses to and from the building and scared women in the neighborhood with catcalls.
"I try to do yard work. I try to take my dog outside. There are men outside screaming vulgarities," said Gina Almerico, who bought a nearby house in 2012 and, at one point, logged 31 different cars at Kladakis' property in a six-month period.
"There are domestic disputes," she said. "I've seen a man and woman screaming and yelling. I've seen a man banging on windows, climbing in and out of windows."
Still, several neighbors testified they haven't called police out of fear of retaliation.
Tampa officials, too, said Kladakis has operated an illegal rooming house in violation of the residential-office zoning on his property. But they said they were focused less on the tenants and more on the use of the building. They pointed to Craigslist ads offering rooms for rent, padlocks on the doors of individual rooms and statements from residents who said they rented by the week and did not have leases.
Special code enforcement magistrate Laura Ware found Kladakis guilty of operating an illegal rooming house. She also told him he needs to be "a better neighbor."
"You're out of compliance," she said. "I am absolutely disappointed and cannot believe that you're not taking responsibility for your own property. ... You have other properties. You should know better. My concern is the safety of the people that neighborhood. You should be responsible for who are you letting in that neighborhood."
Ware gave Kladakis until Oct. 29 to change the use on the property to something legal. Officials said one option would be to pull three of the four electric meters from the building to turn it into a single-family dwelling.
Another would be to apply for a formal determination from the city's zoning administrator to use the building for four apartments. That process typically takes at least 60 days and could take months more if there's an appeal.
If Kladakis, 49, doesn't comply by the deadline, he will face fines of $1,000 per day.
Residents who have complained to City Hall since November welcomed the order as a step in the right direction.
"I think the whole neighborhood is very relieved," said Lisa Shearin, who lives directly across San Carlos from Kladakis' property. "We just want the property to be utilized the way it is zoned."
Tampa's city code defines rooming houses as buildings with three to six individual units, without kitchens, offered for rent for longer than a week.
In an interview after the hearing, Kladakis noted that police, code enforcement and land development officials went to the property on Nov. 21, looked into the rooms and left without citing him for any violations.
But Tampa Fire Marshal Milton Jenkins made his own visit and concluded it was a rooming house. Jenkins said residents told him they rent individual rooms, pay by the week and did not have a lease. Individual room doors had padlocks.
A fire inspector who followed up in May said tenants told him the same thing. The fire inspector's findings went to land development officials who told code enforcement it was an illegal rooming house and should be cited.
Kladakis contended that much of what came out at the hearing was news to him. He said neighbors did not tell him about any criminal activity, and since several said they didn't call police, he said there were no records to let him know there were problems.
Kladakis complained that flyers distributed in the neighborhood alleging fights, a shooting and a stabbing, among other things, aroused residents against him.
"This is what's stemming a lot of the problem," he said at the hearing. "This type of propaganda."
Police dispatch records show officers have been to Kladakis' building 28 times since October. Eight of those occasions concerned disturbances, domestic or roommate disputes, assault and battery calls and, once, a report of a suspicious person.
Kladakis said Friday that he's talked to zoning officials since the hearing and has concluded that applying for the formal determination to use the four apartments would be a "wild goose chase." So instead, he said he plans to ask for a re-hearing.
"I think there are many options beyond closing down the building or making it into one unit," he said.
Another property, another problem
Ware also gave Kladakis until Sept. 3 to stop taking rentals at property he owns at 1080 S Clearview Ave., near Plant High School.
That's because the property has planned-development zoning for an assisted living facility certified by the state. No other use is allowed. (There was an ALF there. In 2005, state officials sued Kladakis, saying the facility and another ALF he owned failed to meet the "most basic health and safety needs" of their elderly residents.)
To come into compliance with city codes, Tampa officials said Kladakis either has to get certification from the state for an assisted living facility or apply for rezoning, perhaps to a single-family designation. To get it into compliance before then, Ware said, "the people are out."
If he doesn't comply, he'll be fined $500 per day.
Kladakis said Friday there are two small houses and one larger house on the property. He said he would prefer to do a long-term lease with an ALF operator. If that's not possible, he said he would pursue the land-use and zoning approvals for three single-family homes.
"As far as the buildings being empty, that won't be a problem," he said. "That will have to happen."
Contact Richard Danielson at firstname.lastname@example.org or (813) 226-3403. Follow @Danielson_Times