TAMPA — Tampa’s landlords have taken it on the chin lately.
Mayor Bob Buckhorn’s code enforcement sweep through a handful of city neighborhoods turned up thousands of properties with violations, about three-quarters of them owned by landlords.
July’s shutdown of a squalid Seminole Heights trailer park owned by former Tampa Port Authority Chairman William “Hoe” Brown also cast a spotlight on the conditions some of the city’s landlords tolerate on their properties.
This spring’s Nehemiah Project has demolished dozens of buildings in Sulphur Springs and North Tampa in an effort to purge those neighborhoods of abandoned properties owned by absentee landlords.
On Tuesday, Buckhorn kicked off his first landlord academy, intended to bring property investors up to speed on the rules that government property management in the city. Instructors included officials from the city’s police department and code enforcement division — two branches of city government that landlords could meet under less friendly circumstances, Buckhorn noted.
Buckhorn told the gathering of more than 100 investors that the city has a moral obligation to get rid of slums and blight.
“We have an obligation to the people who live in this community,” Buckhorn said. “The folks who are working hard every day to make a living, to do the right thing, don’t deserve to live next to a property that is not being maintained.”
The academy fulfills one of Buckhorn’s campaign promises. City officials expect about 50 people to sign on for the half-day class. They got 150 instead and have more waiting for the next class Oct. 28.
In the audience at the Greater Tampa Association of Realtors’ auditorium was Randy Clunn, a Realtor and landlord with six single-family homes in his portfolio.
Clunn said he felt he had a pretty good handle on the rules, but said the academy would be a benefit for other mom-and-pop investors.
“Information is a good thing,” he said.
But he also acknowledged that the people who could needed the education the most — banks holding foreclosures or big investors sweeping up abandoned homes — probably weren’t on hand.
Tenants could use some training too, he said.
Buckhorn said the city is aiming the training at the small-time investors.
“The large property owners that have hundreds of properties, they’re professionals,” Buckhorn said. “They know what to do.”
Small-time investors, especially those new to the real estate industry, need the extra help to stay on the right side of the law, he said.
And those who are doing things right need to be encouraged, he said.
“What we’ve found over the last six months is, to be punitive toward the abusers is fine but you also want to help the good people do better,” Buckhorn said.
How will he know if the training efforts are successful?
That’s not so clear.
Code violations that don’t happen can’t be counted, he said.
“Better landlords mean better neighborhoods,” Buckhorn said. “You just to hope by arming them with good information that they will go and do the right thing. I think the vast majority of people will do that.”