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St. Pete considers crackdown on substandard apartments

BY CHRISTOPHER O’DONNELL
Tribune staff

Published:   |   Updated: November 18, 2013 at 08:38 PM

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ST. PETERSBURG — For years, residents of Mariner’s Pointe have complained about conditions of their rental apartments.

Some units in the complex in Pinellas Point flood when it rains and become mold-infested. The complex also is plagued by drug dealing, shootings and street fights that are sometimes posted on YouTube.

“It bothers me to my core that there are so many children in a place where there is so much violence,” said City Council member Steve Kornell, whose district includes Mariner’s Pointe.

City leaders say apartment complexes like Mariner’s Pointe drag down surrounding neighborhoods.

Now they are looking to beef up regulations and fines for owners who do not do enough to keep apartments safe and in good shape.

“Bad housing conditions and crime go together; when you have bad housing tenants, your good tenants leave,’’ said City Council Chairman Karl Nurse. “We’re going to try and wrestle this to the ground.”

Possible options include shortening the amount of time owners are given to fix problems before they are summoned to a code enforcement board hearing, fining unresponsive owners up to the maximum $500 per violation, and tougher sanctions for repeat offenders.

The city could also extend a 2004 ordinance that grants code enforcement the right to inspect apartments if there are reported problems.

But city leaders admit it will be tough to make a significant difference.

Almost 40 percent of the city’s homes are rentals. The city’s code enforcement department has just 22 inspectors and city leaders say the city does not have the budget to add more.

The department currently has 5,000 active cases, said David Dickerson, code enforcement operations manager.

State law also requires that owners be given time to correct violations before being cited. That means it is usually more than a month before an unresponsive owner is summoned before code enforcement board.

A further hindrance is that inspections are done by sight alone, meaning mold that exists behind drywall is often missed.

“We don’t have the equipment to test for that,” Dickerson said.

After a 2011 shooting at Mariner’s Pointe, Kornell collected crime stats for the complex, which showed more than 1,000 police calls over an 18-month period.

One YouTube video shows two women fighting outside an apartment there while residents egg them on.

As president of the Pinellas Point Civic Association, Jodi Davis regularly meets with Mariner’s Pointe residents and said she has heard close to 100 complaints from unhappy residents there.

“I take that very seriously that people have to live in places that are uninhabitable,” she said.

A spokeswoman for Mariner’s Pointe said management does respond to tenant complaints and said many residents don’t report issues because they are behind on their rent.

Roughly 30 of the apartments in the complex are Section 8 housing and inspected by St. Petersburg Housing Authority staff.

City leaders said there needs to be better communication between police, code enforcement and the housing authority to identify and fix problem apartments.

“We need multiple agencies working together, and I think we started that process,” Kornell said.

codonnell@tampatrib.com

(727) 215-7654

Twitter: @codonnellTBO

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