TAMPA — Three rental properties in South Tampa are under scrutiny from the city of Tampa because of complaints from neighbors who suspect they are being operated improperly as rooming houses.
The properties, owned by Realtor Kevin Kladakis, are at 3110 W San Carlos St., 3713 El Prado Blvd. and 1080 S Clearview Ave., which is near Plant High School.
Kladakis, 48, says none of the three rentals are rooming houses and problems the city has brought to his attention are being addressed.
Of the three, the San Carlos address has been the main focus of recent complaints from its Palma Ceia neighbors.
"There has been for many years and continues to be a steady stream of tenants that seem to change on a monthly or even weekly basis," neighbor Bruce Clark wrote to Mayor Bob Buckhorn this month.
Clark said in his letter that the two-story rental, which was built with four apartments, was home to a registered sex offender who left in 2007 after neighborhood outrage.
Now he said another sex offender lives there, something reflected in the Florida Department of Law Enforcement's sexual offender database.
Clark also wrote the property appears to have more residents than parking spaces (four), is a fire hazard and "is skirting the intent of the city's rules."
"You would not want a facility operated like this in your neighborhood," he wrote. It's a sentiment shared by a group of residents who met this month with City Council member Mary Mulhern.
Kladakis said he should have been invited to that meeting, too. He said the problem is that a resident across the street gets upset when her driveway is blocked or when parked cars on the street require her to back out at a specific angle.
"From what I understand, it is about parking," he said this week. "That's all it's about. … That is the only issue they have ever brought up to me."
Kladakis said neighbors have made groundless complaints about drug dealing at the apartments.
Police records show officers have been at the San Carlos address on 22 different days from January through October, often for domestic disputes and disturbances, but not about drugs.
Nor did police find evidence of drug-dealing on a visit to the house on Nov. 21. Police Capt. Ruben Delgado went with officials from code enforcement and the city's land development coordination office.
"There was nothing criminal going on at that home," police spokeswoman Janelle McGregor said. "We went out and assessed the situation and determined that the majority of the complaints were code-related."
After hearing that neighbors met with Mulhern, Kladakis said he went to police to see whether there were records of the rumored problems.
"If there was, I would think, 20 percent of what they're saying is going on, going on, the police would be all over this," he said.
The city has two code enforcement cases open on the property. One concerns poor exterior conditions on the structure — stucco, door and window frames, eaves and soffits in poor condition.
If not corrected by Jan. 23, the property will start to accrue fines of $100 per day.
But officials said there was a licensed contractor with permits working on the building, and the problems appeared to be on the way to being corrected.
City officials also are reviewing whether the property meets land use codes.
"Generally speaking, while we were on the scene, we saw no evidence to believe that there was any egregious land use violations," said Kevin Amos, a district supervisor with code enforcement. "We learned very quickly that there's probably not a rooming house situation there."
The city code defines rooming houses as buildings offering three to six individual units, without kitchens, offered for rent for longer than a week. They are not allowed just anywhere by city zoning.
When code enforcement suspects a building might be an illegal rooming house, it looks for padlocks on bedroom doors, hot plates and camper-style toilet facilities indicating that individual bedrooms are being rented out.
Inspectors did not find anything like that, though residents in the four apartments had roommates, which is legal.
"Zoning and city code went in every single room and determined what they determined," Kladakis said.
But Tampa Fire Marshal Milton Jenkins reached a different conclusion.
He said he visited the San Carlos property separately and spoke to two tenants who told him they were renting individual rooms inside the apartments, and neither had a lease.
After one resident told him it used to be an apartment but now is a rooming house, Jenkins concluded that it needs a fire alarm and sprinkler system, just like other new rooming houses. (Existing rooming houses only have to have an alarm.)
As a result, he said Kladakis either would have to convert the building back into apartments, make the necessary upgrades to comply with the fire code, or face potential city fines ranging from $100 up to $1,000 a day until he does comply with the code.
Kladakis said the building is not a rooming house, but has four separate apartments occupied by tenants, each with their own lease.
Told of what Jenkins heard from a tenant, he said, "I'm not sure who that would be and why they would say that."
He emphasized that he would work with the city to address any concerns.
Kladakis said when he heard from a neighbor that there was a sex offender at the house in 2007, he asked the tenant to move.
He wasn't aware of any offender now, but would check that out.
"I will see if I can go and speak to him," he said. "I have no problem refunding rent or helping someone financially to move on. If I say this is upsetting to the neighbors, I think he would want to move."
Lawsuit over ALF
In 2005, state officials sued Kladakis and two assisted living facilities that he owned at the El Prado Boulevard and Clearview Avenue addresses.
The state contended that the facilities failed to meet the "most basic health and safety needs" of their elderly residents.
Officials said residents used coffee filters as toilet paper and lived with ant and roach infestations, soiled linens, mold, fire hazards and sewage backing up into bathtubs and showers.
Kladakis said both properties are no longer ALFs but are now rentals — El Prado is a single rental and Clearview has three buildings and three rental units.
But at the El Prado home, Jenkins said he asked a tenant who lived there and was told, "me and nine of my friends."
The resident had a lease in his name, but after further discussion acknowledged that the property was operating as a rooming house, Jenkins said.
Kladakis said his lease is with "one family," and as far as he knows, the residents there are related.
The El Prado house does have a sprinkler system and an alarm, but both had deficiencies.
Once they are corrected, the house can be occupied as a rooming house under the fire code, Jenkins said.
Kladakis said he moved to resolve concerns about the fire equipment the day the fire marshal's office visited.
Code enforcement and land development officials also looked at the house, but, as of this week, only from the outside.
Based on the number of air conditioners they saw in the windows, "there's a chance" it's a rooming house, city certified code enforcement inspector John McLeish said.
But officials said they need to make an interior inspection to be sure. That's fine, Kladakis said.
On Clearview Avenue, Jenkins said Kladakis' properties had working smoke detectors, up-to-date fire extinguishers and an up-to-date fire alarm system. Two residents there told him they were renting rooms by the week — one said she paid $165 a week — and did not have leases.
Consequently, he considers the property to be an existing rooming house with the required fire safety protection.
City officials also walked through the Clearview Avenue property and say there may be an illegal use on the property based on its zoning as an assisted living facility. The city's land development office has the property under review, but code enforcement officials say that if it's being used as a rental property, Kladakis may have to seek a rezoning for that use or convert it back into an assisted living facility.
Based on his conversations with city officials, Kladakis said his understanding is that if he's going from an assisted living facility to a "less-dense" rental use, it might be able to be done in-house at the city.
"Whatever is needed to be done," he said, "I will do."