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Who owns that scary house on the corner? Pasco wants to find out

A proposal requiring registration of rental or vacant property is intended to aid sheriff’s deputies and code-enforcement officers.
This home on Salem Drive in the Beacon Hill area of Colonial Hills in west Pasco has been vacant for years, a neighbor said. Its owner is listed as the estate of a woman who died in 2013, and its property taxes are in arrears. A proposed Pasco County ordinance would require the owners of vacant and rental residences to register their sites with the county and the Pasco County Sheriff's Office in an effort to aid code- and law-enforcement officers. [C.T. BOWEN | Tampa Bay Times]

ELFERS — Despite a new-home building boom, the percentage of homeowner-occupied dwellings in Pasco County is smaller now than it was 10 years ago.

In 2008, nearly 54 percent of the county’s 246,000 residences were owner-occupied, according to the Pasco County Property Appraiser’s Office. Eleven years later, that percentage stands at less than 47 percent, even though the number of homes has grown by nearly 45,000 units.

The result — part of the lingering effects of the real estate crash and Great Recession of the past decade — is an influx of former homesteads turning into investor-owned rental homes or simply vacant properties that can attract illegal activity.

Now, to aid law- and code-enforcement officers, the county is poised to require those property owners to register their sites with the Pasco County Sheriff’s Office under a proposed “at-risk property registry’’ ordinance.

The proposal ordinance “gives us the tools we need to help make the community better,’’ said Sheriff Chris Nocco.

His comments came during a Sept. 24 county commission workshop at the Elfers Senior Center that drew a standing-room-only crowd of real estate agents and property managers.

Such a registry would provide deputies and code-enforcement officers information to track down owners, or the designated property managers, of homes that may have fallen into disrepair or attracted criminal behavior.

The targeted properties include: those in foreclosure or pre-foreclosure; those that have absentee owners; undeveloped or unoccupied land; or hotels or rooming houses renting to people who have no other permanent residence.

Vacant homes can spur trespassing, illegal dumping, vandalism or delays in public safety responses as authorities seek the legal owners as expenses are passed on to taxpayers.

Kristi Sims, the senior assistant county attorney who drafted the proposed ordinance, said the county spent $40,000 mowing lawns at vacant properties last year and has spent as much as $100,000 in prior years.

Research shows that “when you have a vacant, abandoned building, it absolutely affects the property value of the properties surrounding it,’’ she said.

Rental properties can be problematic, she said, because owners may be unaware of tenant violations. And deputies may be unable to determine the lawful occupants of the homes when they respond to calls.

The proposal received mixed reviews from real estate agents.

“The whole thing is scary,’’ said Greg Armstrong who heads the public policy committee of the West Pasco Board of Realtors.

Armstrong and board president David Longspaugh released a statement objecting to the proposal, saying it would allow the county to enforce codes through professional property managers while “the expense would ultimately be shouldered by a population segment least able to afford it — the tenants.’’

But Allen Crumbley of Berkshire Hathaway HomeServices Florida Properties Group, endorsed the idea.

“It has to be done,’’ said Crumbley whose company manages 2,000 rental units in the Tampa Bay area, including 400 in Pasco County. ‘’Most people are responsible, but it doesn’t take too many (irresponsible owners) in a clustered area to deteriorate a neighborhood.’’

The proposed ordinance still requires a formal introduction by the commission and scheduled public hearings before a final commission vote.