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Four Oaks renters await rental home inspections

Landlords in the Four Oaks neighborhood are getting more incentive to fix up rental housing that has been going downhill for years.

County code inspectors are paying visits to all rental units throughout Hillsborough to enforce a new ordinance that requires minimum housing standards for people who rent them.

"It should have been implemented a long time ago," said Peter Anello, president of the Four Oaks homeowner association. "We have landlords renting units that are not fit for human habitation."

It's called the Rental Housing Inspection Program. County commissioners passed the measure June 18 and the program started in July, said Melanie Hickey, a senior manager with the county's Housing and Community Code Enforcement Department.

Landlords pay a fee of $15.80 for code officers to inspect each rental unit they own and make sure they meet the county's minimum housing standards. Among other things, each unit must have smoke alarms, hot and cold water, a safe source of heating and be free of infestation.

If a rental dwelling falls below standards, landlords are required to fix the problems.

Anello mailed a letter on Aug. 20 to all residents in Four Oaks to let them know what's going on.

"Four Oaks and a neighborhood in Riverview (have) been selected to start this program," the letter said. "A properly maintained rental unit will have no problem complying with this new ordinance."

Hickey said code officers have identified about 5,000 units countywide to inspect. They have estimated there are about 125,000 rental properties in Hillsborough.

"We are going to inspect every residential rental property in the county," Hickey said. "We'll attempt to do this annually, but we may have to go (biennially) because of the high number."

She added that most of the response has been positive so far, but some landlords are not pleased with the ordinance.

Charlie Westlake, who lives in Four Oaks and owns 14 rental properties there, fears the county requirement could force some landlords out of business.

"From a property-rights point of view, this ordinance isn't so great," said Westlake, whose properties have not yet been inspected. "I feel if a tenant chooses to trade off a lower amount of rent for a place that's not as nice, it should be between the tenant and landlords.

"If I have to start pumping money into my rental units, it will raise the rent," said Westlake, 46. He says most of his rents are about $500 a month.

"The $15 fee isn't a big problem. But if they come and inspect and you've got to put $2,000 or $3,000 into a unit, that can hurt."

Jim Blinck, a code enforcement supervisor, said if houses are vacant and not being rented, they are not subject to the ordinance. Second homes also are not subject to the regulations.

The law is meant to protect renters who could fall prey to slumlords, Blinck said.

"In the county we have numerous large apartment complexes now approaching 30 to 35 years of age," Blinck said. "We want to be sure they still meet minimum requirements for health and safety."

_ Tim Grant can be reached at (813) 269-5311 or at grantsptimes.com

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