MADEIRA BEACH — Landlords beware.
If tenants engage in crime or create chronic nuisances, property owners could face hefty fines, forced eviction of tenants and their properties could be shuttered or condemned by the city.
Since the City Commission put a strong nuisance ordinance into effect in October 2012, no liens have been levied on any properties, but two problem properties were condemned and demolished.
Now, the city wants landlords to fully understand the scope and purpose of the ordinance before similar actions are taken against more than 100 problem properties.
At issue are tenants who sell and use drugs, engage in other criminal activities, or create noise or other nuisances that disturb and even threaten neighborhood residents.
"The seminar is educational for the landlords who need to be aware they run the risk of having liens placed on property," City Manager Shane Crawford explained.
More than a dozen landlords have already signed up for the course.
The seminar will be held from 8:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. Feb. 20 at City Hall and will be conducted by the city's community policing deputy, Shawn Heffner, and code enforcement officer Don Klase.
Crawford credits Elaine Poe, who will represent District 3 on the City Commission beginning in March, with pushing for the crackdown on criminal elements in the city.
Poe was the only challenger to current Commissioner Nancy Oakley, who was running for re-election but announced this week that she is withdrawing due to the failing health of her husband, John.
Poe, 64, a native of Georgia, has lived for 27 years in Madeira Beach, where she and her husband operated a boat brokerage business until their recent retirement.
Her longtime involvement with Neighborhood Watch led her to push hard in the past two years for the city to crack down on neighborhood crime and nuisance tenants.
"We are the ones that let it happen," Poe said. "We can't fault the sheriff who arrests and re- arrests (suspects) … . We realized we are not holding the right people responsible, and they are the property owners."
Poe spent months researching solutions and was the driving force behind the creation of the city's nuisance ordinance, which allows for citations and fines for properties with repeated nuisance activities.
Action can be taken against residential properties where prohibited behaviors occur three or more times in a month or seven or more times in six months. Commercial businesses are affected as well when five or more nuisance activities occur within 30 days or 20 or more within six months.
Poe hopes other beach communities will adopt similar measures. She and Mayor Travis Palladeno plan to meet with Redington Shores officials this month about enacting the same kind of rules.
Palladeno said Clearwater and St. Pete Beach have also expressed interest.
"The new ordinance made it possible for us to condemn two properties on the corner of 141st Avenue and Gulf Boulevard that were not well-kept and were rented by elements we don't want in our city. Thankfully, the new owner worked with us, and now the 15 rental units are gone," Palladeno said.
The ordinance defines more than 30 nuisances, including criminal activities such as drugs or burglaries, excessive alcohol consumption or littering, having dangerous dogs, prostitution, and loud parties.
"We're not here to beat up anybody. We want to work together with landlords," Palladeno added.