Alachua County Plans Rental Inspection Program to Meet Basic Standards

Alachua County officials plan to follow the lead of Gainesville officials who passed a controversial home inspection program.

The move leaves many homeowners and real estate agents appalled who say the costs of upgrading to energy efficiency standards are forcing people to sell their homes or drive up rental costs.

Last week, the Alachua County Commission Board voted 4 to 1, with new commissioner Raemi Eagle-Glenn dissenting, to approve a schedule to implement the new home inspections. An ordinance would still need to be approved before becoming law.

By Oct. 1, according to the plan, owners would be required to obtain inspection permits, the cost of which is estimated at $125.

“I see it as a restriction on private property,” Eagle-Glenn said, adding that the plan may not go down well with rural communities.

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Eagle-Glenn said that under current law, tenants already have legal remedies if landlords fail to keep their rents at appropriate standards.

“The Florida Bar has created very user-friendly guidelines on how (renters) can advocate to get things done on their rental property,” she said.

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Gainesville officials are still working through some issues within its program, particularly how to handle its home inspections to address energy efficiency issues, which have been addressed by a vendor. The city is now in the process of hiring inspectors to handle the inspections internally.

County staff suggested a more phased approach to facilitate the changes.

Plans are to hire people to perform basic code safety checks starting next year before starting energy efficiency plans in 2026, which Gainesville launched in October 2021.

“The major issue is really safety and those who are less fortunate,” County Commissioner Charles Chestnut said.

Similarly, Commissioner Anna Prizzia said the inspection scheme was brought forward by advocates who raised concerns about slum landlords.

Since the Gainesville program only covers those within the city limits, a mirror county approach would cover those living just on the outskirts in unincorporated areas.

“It would require the owners themselves, who are making money as a business in the business, to pay a minimum amount that would cover the cost of this education, awareness and enforcement program so that this burden does not rest on the ordinary taxpayer who does not have rental income,” Prizzia said.

With nearly 93,000 county residents having Gainesville Regional Utilities as their electricity provider — which already has some of the highest bills in the state — poor, energy-efficient homes often become the burden of renters because of their utility bills. public.

A concern raised by a few homeowners was that city inspectors were causing damage while working in attics during inspections, said Missy Daniels, the county’s acting assistant manager.

City officials said they had not heard those same concerns.

“They were having issues with complaints about the attic joints breaking, things in the house breaking when people were doing the inspections,” Daniels said. “Quite frankly, it’s an issue we’re still grappling with, even with internal inspectors.”

Gainesville has approximately 8,000 rentals that must be inspected every four years.

So far, the city has inspected 450 homes, about 80 percent of which had at least one issue that needed homeowners to fix, said Andrew Persons, director of Gainesville’s sustainability department.

“We’ve definitely seen examples where these were real life safety issues where improper wiring was done without authorization,” he said. “In some cases, this could create a fire hazard.”

But he added that some of the recommended fixes are more mundane.

“One toilet was missing a large chunk of the tank,” Persons said. “It runs the gamut. Some units had minimal issues. Some may be missing a low-flow showerhead.”

Landlords and real estate agents who opposed the changes claimed the changes were causing more harm than good.

Terry Martin-Back, an associate realtor who manages many rental properties, said the hassle of Gainesville’s inspection program, combined with the current real estate market, is pushing landlords to sell their rental units. He said he had about 30 fewer rentals than when the city launched the program.

Some have argued that building code inspections already cover the issues, although they don’t address window replacement, repairing cracks in doors, and other energy efficiency issues that can be identified by program inspectors.

“We have state standards, and they have to be followed,” said Matthew Umanos, director of government affairs for the Gainesville-Alachua County Association of Realtors.

Umanos said the costs of compliance with the inspection program are contributing to rising rents at a time when more affordable housing is needed, despite prices rising in the county without the program being implemented.

“We have to make sure we keep rents affordable,” he said. “We know that the costs of these increased energy savings and permitting costs will be passed on to the tenant. The city does not know the exact cost savings of these additional energy efficiencies. Replacing toilets and adding insulation isn’t cheap.

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