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Alachua County Commission moves forward with rental unit permit and inspection program

BY JENNIFER CABRERA

Bottom line: The Alachua County Commission voted to ask staff to bring back an ordinance in August that will require landlords in the unincorporated areas of the county to obtain permits and submit to “minimum housing” inspections. The smaller municipalities can opt in to the program but will not be required to participate.


GAINESVILLE, Fla. – The Alachua County Commission had a preliminary discussion on Tuesday about a proposed Residential Rental Unit Permit and Inspection Program. The County has been watching to see whether Gainesville’s “Renters’ Rights” ordinances, which require that rental units meet specific energy efficiency standards, make things better or worse before implementing their own ordinances. If the County were to adopt a similar ordinance, it would apply in the unincorporated areas, and the smaller municipalities would be able to opt in. 

Since the City will take four years to inspect all the rental properties and start getting data on the program’s effect on utility costs and rents, staff recommended that the County wait until 2026 to implement energy efficiency standards. However, they said the County could start issuing Residential Rental Unit Permits this fall, collecting and verifying exemption requests, and educating the community on minimum housing standards. Staff said they could begin conducting minimum housing inspections on rental properties in the fall of 2023, and then they could add energy efficiency standards in 2026 if the County Commission approves that. 

The County does not currently proactively enforce the minimum housing codes; instead, they respond to complaints. 

Commissioner Ken Cornell said he had heard complaints about the City’s program, “And so I’m very much in favor of this program, commissioners, but I also want to be deliberate and practical.” He said the proposed timeline made sense to him.

Commissioner Anna Prizzia agreed, saying the standards “are something that every landlord should be doing to be able to provide habitable and safe places for people to live, so getting proactive enforcement of that right away and then move forward with… energy efficiency… makes a lot of sense to me.”

Commissioner Raemi Eagle-Glenn, who had just been sworn in that morning, said, “I’m seeing this as an example of perhaps what might be good for Gainesville… but which may not really resonate or be welcome in what we call the donut, in some of our smaller, more rural communities. I see this as a restraint on private property ownership. There is already in place legal remedies for landlords and tenants, and the Florida Bar has created very consumer-friendly guidelines as to how they can advocate for themselves in getting things done on their rental property.”

Eagle-Glenn said she was afraid people would just sell properties instead of renting them out. She encouraged the public to “come out and express their concerns regarding this issue because I don’t think we need to add another layer of burden onto our homeowners on top of the high property taxes we already pay.”

Missy Daniels from Growth Management told the board that proactively enforcing minimum housing standards “is potentially going to cost [landlords] money because, you know, when we get complaints… there is always something to fix.”

Prizzia made a motion to accept the timeline and move forward to advertise the ordinance with some minor text changes.

During public comment, a representative from the Gainesville/Alachua County Association of Realtors said that since the City of Gainesville adopted their ordinance, “rental rates are going up faster, there’s more competition, and less supply… We know the costs of these raised energy efficiencies and permit costs will be passed to the tenant… It’s the renter that ultimately has to pay for those costs as they are passed along, or the unit is sold, leaving less rentals available. We oppose this ordinance on the ground that it is a mandatory inspection requirement and [violates] private property ownership and the right to rent.”

Tamara Robbins said, “Gainesville is notorious for moving forward with what sound like—really, it’s an overstep but somehow a good idea—and then they realize what an incredible burden it is for everybody.” She was also concerned about moving forward with a program requiring more staff when the County is having trouble staffing their current positions. She asked the board to “screech it to a halt” and simply continue responding to complaints.

Terry Martin-Back says his company manages numerous properties around Gainesville and Alachua County, and he said they lost 30% of the properties they were managing after Gainesville put its ordinance into place. He said the board should consider rentals like a 1976 double-wide mobile home: “Do you really feel that it’s going to meet all the inspection criteria?… Maybe they’re only paying $450, $500 a month rent, but that’s what they can afford. When you implement something like this, where are they going to go?… You’re going to cause them to move outside of the county, you’re going to bring a larger expense… You need to consider the people in the rural areas.”

Debra Martin-Back suggested putting more effort into educating the tenant about their rights and about the minimum standards “instead of, you know, creating bureaucracy out there that’s going to increase rents and cause everybody a heartache.”

Following public comment, Prizzia said this is a “perfect program” where “the landlords themselves who are making money as a business… pay a minimal amount that would cover the costs of this program for education and outreach and enforcement so that burden is not on the everyday taxpayer who does not have a rental income.”

Cornell, a realtor, said he is seeing rental property owners making the decision to put their properties on the market instead of making the improvements required under Gainesville’s ordinance. “The brainchild of this is safety… So I think it’s just really a matter of what’s the best way that we can enforce and make sure that the rental stock are safe, and I think most landlords are already providing safe dwelling units.”

Commissioner Chuck Chestnut agreed that the issue “is really safety and those who are less fortunate… and can’t go out and get an attorney and fight for their rights… When I was a city commissioner, there was a lot of slum landlords where folks were actually living in deplorable conditions where it had holes in the floor, all of that.” He said the complaint he hears the most is that units are inefficient and have high utility bills. “There is a cost to everything. You know?… To make sure people are living in decent housing.”

Chestnut said he has relatives who have rental property and who had to make improvements to meet Gainesville’s standards: “He said eventually that he probably would have to raise his rent. I understand it and everyone else understands that but it’s the fact that now those individuals can live in a house that is decent and up to par.” 

Eagle-Glenn advocated for “the average taxpayer and average citizen who is a property owner and who is just renting out that property to cover the mortgage, to cover the property taxes and insurance. There are programs in place for renters. There is legal aid. And there is also a place to go get forms, to follow the very consumer-friendly Florida Bar guidelines at the circuit court. So for the record, I do not agree with moving forward on a timeline to consider this ordinance.”

Chair Marihelen Wheeler said it also bothered her “that we are moving forward with this when we don’t have personnel to actually do this… I would like to have had more time to watch what is going on in the City to see what the results are of their actions with this, too… I would like to have seen this pushed further down the road… I don’t want to let down… our labor folks who are trying to make sure that our work group has the safe housing that they need, but… I’m not so sure that what we’re trying to do is realistic.”

Chestnut said that they will have the opportunity to discuss it again when it comes back and that he thought it was “more rational” to bring it back for a vote instead of postponing it “and then come back a year later and then staff has to do the same thing all over again.”

The motion passed 4-1, with Eagle-Glenn in dissent. The ordinance will come back for a public hearing in August. 

  • I guess Cornell and the other realtors make money when people decide to put their rental property up for sale and someone else buys it. So this is a way for the realtors to make money while driving up rent prices? And artificially inflating property values and therefore increasing real estate sales commissions? I’m sure Cornell being a Bosshardt VP is COMPLETELY UNRELATED to all of this.

  • Alachua Chronicle: Commissioner Raemi Eagle-Glenn, who had just been sworn in that morning, said, “I’m seeing this as an example of perhaps what might be good for Gainesville… but which may not really resonate or be welcome in what we call the donut, in some of our smaller, more rural communities.”

    HappyHumans of The Donut don’t go nuts for Agenda 2030 Stunts

  • Staff recommends…Leadership disregards.

    Doesn’t this sound a bit like another locally elected dictatorship?

    Won’t be long for them to totally start disregarding the requests of the voters.

  • As a landlord, I love it! Gives me an excuse to raise the rent by 25% instead of just 3%.

    • This is total BS…jealous commies pushed this
      Landlord ordinance thing…there was never a problem, all you have to do is call
      Code enforcement if you had an unresolved issue. I doubled
      My rents after the city enacted their landlord ordinance
      On 4 or less units…I consolidated my units so they were
      5 units or more to get away from their tyranny. 5 or
      More units are regulated by the state…the city & county
      Should mind their own business and focus on essential
      Service like police, fire, parks, and roads. Thanks c of g
      For making me rich and making units less affordable….
      The unintended consequences of government intervention…of course I can govern myself. The nicer
      My property, the higher the rent, the higher the value,
      The higher the property taxes….all you did was make
      Me raise rents and I was the best deal in town. Ha ha ha.. what’s that? That’s me laughing on my way to
      The bank because you made affordable housing
      Unaffordable… your definition of affordable housing
      Is government assisted or free housing…a misnomer.

      • On top of that, if you have government assisted units (section 8), they are inspected by HUD annually anyway! all you did was disrupt the apple cart and
        Raise rents!

  • For an organization that wants to create affordable housing, they just mandated the opposite.

    How much longer are the voters going to believe these liars?

    • Affordable housing? That does not mean what you
      Think it means…you think it means housing that
      You can afford. They use the term to make government
      Free housing or government assisted housing…according to the the world economic forum (WEF)
      And “the great reset”… they want to end world
      Homelessness, end world hunger, end private
      Property rights, everyone will be a renter, “you will
      Own nothing and be happy”…these elected officials
      Are getting their marching orders from a foreign entity…
      The UN…it’s agenda 21, agenda 30, one world
      Government, new world order, global totalitarianism.
      You will not be able to engage in commerce if you
      Don’t comply with their mandates…”the prison planet”…
      Digital currency, government will own the means
      Of production, you may not have AC in the future,
      You may be living in a sustainable village…

      • The problem is population. Less human population
        Will save the planet and stop climate change. Are
        They trying to reduce the population with their
        Pandemic vaccines?

  • I’m sure Cornell has a couple extra rooms the taxpayers paid for in his mansion.

    • It’s been said that during certain community gatherings Cornell makes sure he has more drinks than conversation to partake of. Also makes sure the hired help does what they’re paid to do rather than engage in conversation.

      Yeah, he’s in touch with the community and cares about your concerns.

    • To top it all off, I can’t believe he thinks it’s beneficial to run campaign ads on this site! Well, it benefited me by making me laugh at it, so perhaps that was his intent.

  • I can’t believe that this is actually legal. The government is sending an inspector into people’s homes against the will of the owner and probably the renter as well? What are they going to do, force their way into the home? You couldn’t pay me enough to do that job. Huge government overreach.

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