Gainesville landlords will end up paying an additional $33 a year to register their rental units, but the city commission also voted Thursday to ease some registration requirements and take over an associated inspection program.
The commission first authorized the Residential Rental Unit Permit and Inspection Program in September 2020, and it went into effect October 2021.
At Thursday’s regular meeting, Andrew Persons, the city’s director of sustainable development, updated the commission on the first months of the program and asked the city to authorize some changes to the process—among them raising the rates and bringing the inspection program in-house.
Currently, the city contracts with CAP Government Inc. to provide inspections as part of the program.
The commission authorized the requested changes, voting 6-0 to phase in a cost increase to $155 from $122, dropping requirement to complete a self-inspection checklist, and authorizing the city’s codes enforcement personnel to take over post-registration inspections.
The program has issued 7,000 rental permits since it began taking applications last year, Persons said. Another 8,500 potential rental housing units are in the process of being verified, including 6,500 where the owners have claimed they are exempt from the ordinance and 2,000 that have not responded to the city at all.
The required program establishes a set of health, safety and maintenance standards for rental units to meet. It also requires that registered units meet U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) standards for energy efficiency.
Persons said the DOE announced last week it would honor Gainesville for being the first city in the nation to incorporate a home energy score in its rental housing ordinance.
The 5-page self-inspection checklist was dropped in part because it resulted in delays for getting units registered and because it was difficult for owners to complete.
The self-inspection list was developed from the code requirements, and represents the criteria that housing inspectors will use to evaluate units. However, several owners have complained that the self-inspection checklist is hard to understand, Person said.
Commissioners asked that the checklist be overhauled to make it more accessible and understandable for the general public.
“On a lot of the stuff, it needs to be put in more layperson language,” Commissioner Adrian Hayes-Santos said. ”All the stuff is more legalese. We can make it be much more layperson [friendly].”
As part of the program, registered units are inspected during every four-year period on a random selection basis.
The city’s contractor has completed 400 inspections since the enforcement began in October 2021.
However, landlords have complained about the current inspection program, including problems with how the inspections are scheduled and conducted. The contractor hires UF engineering students who feed video and photographs of the units to a remote inspector. That inspector uses the video and photographs to determine if the rental units pass or fail inspection.
To address those concerns, city staff recommended sunsetting the contract with CAP Government and having city staffers take over the inspection duties.
“I am in favor of uncomplicating and streamlining this process,” said Commissioner Desmon Duncan-Walker, who said her grandfather has rental units that are registered with the program. “I think the best way to do that is for us to be accountable to the people who are depending on us and who can immediately reach out to us and express their concerns and have them addressed in an immediate way.”
The increase in fees is part of making the program cost neutral for the city. Currently the fee pays about 72 percent of the cost of running the program, according to an outside consultant’s cost-of-service analysis.
Part of the shortfall was the city initially estimated more rental units would participate in the program but around half the units are claiming to be exempt from the requirements, Person said.
Several people who spoke at Thursday’s meeting said the increase in fees likely passed on to renters in Gainesville.
Commissioner David Arreola said he has been a renter for 11 years and that in all that time had only had one landlord who didn’t raise his rent.
“When landlords say, ‘We’re going to pass this off to you,’ that is a threat that they are going to increase your rent,” Arreola said. “I don’t think this commission should be intimidated by threats.”
Commissioner Harvey Ward said the point of the program was to make sure Gainesville residents had a safe place to live.
“It’s a consumer protection measure,” Ward said.