Monday, January 22, 2018
News Roundup

Tampa City Council: Code enforcement needs big fix, many fixes, or both

TAMPA — The nine new or cross-trained inspectors should help, but with 17,000 rentals and 6,000 foreclosed homes in Tampa, the City Council said Thursday that code enforcement needs more than reinforcements.

"The system does not work," council Chairman Charlie Miranda said after several hours of questions, answers and brainstorming. "We need a complete overhaul, and the administration is in charge of that."

Still, council members offered ideas to be discussed further on Sept. 26, including:

• Providing more training to police and solid waste employees so they can spot and report code violations as they move about the city. Council member Frank Reddick wants to explore setting standards that would require police who see squalid conditions to report them to code enforcement within 24 hours and code inspectors to act on those reports within 72 hours.

• Bolstering city inspections of properties with rental certificates, a task now done by just three inspectors. Council member Lisa Montelione suggested outsourcing the inspections to a private company, and revoking the rental certificates of property owners with outstanding violations when they come up for annual renewal.

• Tasking a newly hired grants writer to seek state or federal money that council member Mary Mulhern said could be used for code enforcement.

• Seeking state legislation to attach outstanding code enforcement fines to property tax bills, issuing citations to the owners of rental properties with code violations as well as to their tenants and targeting delinquent, out-of-state landlords who own multiple problem properties.

Council member Harry Cohen suggested re-establishing the city's peer-to-peer program. During the 1980s and 1990s, the program worked to head off problems like junk cars and overgrown yards by relying on residents to talk to their neighbors.

The council had started talking about improving code enforcement long before last month's disclosures by the Tampa Bay Times about the roach-infested, unpermitted rentals kept by then-Tampa Port Authority chairman William "Hoe" Brown.

But the scandal, which led to Brown's resignation, cast a brighter light on the city's code enforcement process. In response, Mayor Bob Buckhorn plans to fill two vacant code enforcement positions, add two more and cross-train five solid waste environmental inspectors to write code violations.

Buckhorn also launched a 30-day code enforcement sweep of three areas of North and Central Tampa. During the first week of the sweep, which ended Sunday, code enforcement inspectors opened 284 cases and wrote 502 violations on a total of 269 properties.

Also Thursday, the council approved spending $255,000 to demolish abandoned houses in Sulphur Springs as well as ramshackle mobile homes in a trailer park between Ybor City and Seminole Heights.

The Sulphur Springs demolitions will come as part of Buckhorn's initiative, announced in January, to tear down 51 vacant houses that had been deemed uninhabitable. But the project stalled after 11 demolitions when the original contractor found that the costs exceeded what it had bid and left the job, officials said.

"We've got a new contractor in there so we're back on track now," Buckhorn said recently.

The $255,000 will be allocated for 27 properties that are condemned and may be demolished within the fiscal year, which runs through the end of September, city officials say.

Part of the money also will be earmarked to pay for removing 18 mobile homes from the Green Trailer Park at 5004 N 19th St. The mobile homes are single-wides that generally date to the 1960s and early 1970s, though some were built as long ago as 1958, according to county records.

The city has several different legal actions regarding the park under way, including orders of demolition that the property owner has appealed to Hillsborough Circuit Court and several municipal ordinance violation cases that are pending in criminal court.

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