The city of Gainesville rental unit inspection program has been invalidated by a new state law and will need to be repealed, city staff told the City Commission on Thursday.
Mayor Harvey Ward called the inspection program “collateral damage” from HB 1417, a state effort aimed at controlling other tenant-landlord regulation.
“It’s a result, frankly, of sloppy bill writing—again,” Ward said. “Circumstance after circumstance we are finding that to be true both locally and across the state. It’s remarkably disappointing.”
The commission initially authorized the inspection program in September 2020 and it went into effect in October 2021. The program requires rental properties to meet a set of health, safety and maintenance standards. It also requires the units to meet U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) standards for energy efficiency.
Gainesville staffers had been invited to other cities to discuss the program, and the DOE even honored the city for being the first city in the nation to include the home energy score in its rental housing ordinance.
“This was a program that was designed to eliminate substandard residential units by creating a permanent inspection program where we go out and do quadrennial inspections of rental properties that are between one and four units,” Andrew Persons, a special adviser to the city manager on sustainable and equitable development, told the commission during a housing presentation at the general policy committee meeting.
But a new law that went into effect on July 1 says that the state regulates residential tenancies and the landlord-tenant relationship and that local government regulations are preempted by state law.
“Given the adoption of this law, we believe after some discussion with the [city] attorney’s office that the program as it exists, the ordinance as it exists, has been invalidated,” Persons said.
Shuttering the program will cost 11 jobs currently dedicated to the program, and City Manager Cynthia Curry said the city would lose an estimated $900,000 in revenue in fiscal year 2024.
Curry also said the human resources staff is looking for positions for the affected employees, who will remain employed at the city through Sept. 30. She said the city’s general codes enforcement department only had one current officer vacancy.
In addition to the rental inspection program, the city will need to alter or drop other parts of city code that regulate rentals, including the city’s occupancy limit, which prevents rentals to more than three unrelated people.
City Attorney Daniel Nee said he doesn’t think the city’s program was particularly targeted by the state but that the law “has certainly swept up our program in the preemption.”
However, Gainesville still can enforce the minimum housing standards, Nee said.
“We aren’t going to be able to really regulate landlords,” said Commissioner Reina Saco. “It’s going to come down to what can we do as far as land use and zoning. … I think we have to really buckle down and accept the reality that we live in.”