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Pasco approves rental home registry

A new ordinance is supposed to aid sheriff’s deputies and code-enforcement officers dealing with rental or vacant properties.
This home in Colonial Hills neighborhood in west Pasco has been vacant for 10 years, neighbors said. A new Pasco County ordinance would require the owners of vacant and rental residences to register their properties with the Pasco County Sheriff's Office. [C.T. BOWEN  |  Tampa Bay Times]
This home in Colonial Hills neighborhood in west Pasco has been vacant for 10 years, neighbors said. A new Pasco County ordinance would require the owners of vacant and rental residences to register their properties with the Pasco County Sheriff's Office. [C.T. BOWEN | Tampa Bay Times]

NEW PORT RICHEY — Pasco County is cracking down on rental homes and vacant properties, adopting a new ordinance advocates said will aid public safety and protect property values.

The ordinance establishes a rental record requiring property owners and/or their property managers to register their rental homes with the Pasco County Sheriff’s Office. It applies to residential properties vacant at least 60 days.

The ordinance comes in the wake of a declining percentage of owner-occupied homes in the county since 2008. The Pasco County Property Appraiser’s Office said nearly 54 percent of the county’s 246,000 residences were owner-occupied in 2008. By 2019, that percentage stood at less than 47 percent, even though the number of homes grew by nearly 45,000 units.

The result, part of the lingering effects of the real estate crash and Great Recession of 2008 and beyond, is an influx of former homesteads turning into investor-owned rental homes or simply vacant properties that can attract illegal activity or become neighborhood eyesores.

Related: Who owns that scary house on the corner?

Essentially, the registry will give deputies and code enforcement officers a reliable way to contact owners or managers of problematic properties. The county has a similar ordinance for foreclosure homes.

"This is something that will help them bring back their neighborhood,'' Pasco Sheriff Chris Nocco said of neighbors who must tolerate criminal activity at nearby rental homes.

But the ordinance, which becomes effective April 1, is not as far-reaching as first discussed. During a September workshop, Commissioner Kathryn Starkey advocated for a stronger code enforcement provision to try to keep rental properties from falling into disrepair.

Realtors objected, however, saying it was a costly burden and pushed government enforcement to the private sector.

"It was going to force a lot of people out of the (property management) business, because it wasn’t feasible,'' Greg Armstrong, who heads the West Pasco Board of Realtors’ public affairs committee, said before the meeting. “You’d have to add staff. Landlords and property owners aren’t going to pay that. It’s going to be me.”

The approved ordinance, however, didn’t carry an inspection requirement, nor does it require landlords to provide garbage pick-up or utility services to the property. The changes brought a public endorsement from the Central Pasco Realtors Association during a public hearing Tuesday afternoon. Starkey endorsed it as well.

"I don’t know if this will get us all the way where I think we need to be, but this is a great first step,'' she said.

The registration requires owners who do not reside in Pasco County to designate a local property manager to receive legal warnings, citations and violation notices tied to the property. The owner also can be notified when a tenant or occupant is cited by the county or Sheriff’s Office and can agree in advance to allow deputies to issue trespass warnings if applicable.

The ordinance, adopted by a unanimous commission, is not intended to target seasonal residents who winter in Florida, but who live elsewhere during summer months.

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