The city of Gainesville adopted a new ordinance called “Residential Rental Unit Permits,” which will lower permit fees, introduce new energy efficiency standards for rentals and include mandatory compliance inspections.
The new ordinance will go into effect Oct. 1, giving landlords about five months to make these changes.
Peter Backhaus, the city of Gainesville’s neighborhood enhancement manager, said it’s important for the community to learn about these changes.
“We want to make sure that everybody is prepared and has the knowledge in order to be able to comply with the ordinance and ensure that it’s a smooth transition,” he said.
Backhaus said the ordinance expands on what the city of Gainesville is currently regulating. He said the new permit fee is $122, which is less than the current permit fee.
According to Backhaus, a regulated residential unit is defined as “a room or rooms located in a condominium, co-op, timeshare, quadraplex, triplex, duplex, or single-family dwelling that is rented, or advertised or held out to be rented, for periods of at least 30 consecutive days or one calendar month.”
Some of the changes in this ordinance are new energy efficiency standards, requiring updates that also increase safety. Examples include upgraded features to attics, ducts, water heaters, chimneys and plumbing.
Backhaus said the city will also be doing mandatory compliance inspections at least once every four years for all rentals in the city limits.
“We will work with you to provide plenty of time to set up this inspection,” he said. “We’re not going to surprise you with it.”
Jasmine Disgdiertt, the owner of Campus Realty Group in Gainesville, said she thinks that it’s good that the city is adopting some changes for giving tenants more information and documents on their rights, but she is concerned about the upgraded energy efficiency standards.
She said it’s going to be quite a feat to get all of these standards done by October for many property owners. She’s also concerned about the cost that this requires of property owners in a short amount of time, and she isn’t sure tenants will get the benefits that the city expects.
“I’m just concerned that we’re going to have a really big burden on these homeowners that isn’t really going to give us any benefit for our tenants and the property owners,” Disgdiertt said.
Some of the new upgraded equipment is also difficult to find in stores, she said, which will slow the process of putting them into properties.
Disgdiertt said she hopes that at least some of these changes are beneficial to the city and tenants, but the codes the city already has do provide protection for everyone.
“I think in general, the codes we already have for rentals do a lot to protect the tenants and keep the properties in livable condition that are not a hazard or safety issue to anybody,” she said.
She said it’s just a waiting game to see what happens once the changes go into effect.
Backhaus said this permitting process is not new, but the focus in the process is different.
“We’re now looking at focusing more on minimum housing standards and energy efficiency for units because of concerns for folks who are renting properties of high bills regarding the utilities for the unit,” he said. “We want to make sure that the living conditions are acceptable.”
The process of changing ordinances came into fruition after the city established a rental housing subcommittee in 2018.
Backhaus said the subcommittee took input from landlords, property owners and renters on what changes can be made in a new ordinance.
Then, the subcommittee brought seven recommendations to the city commission, where it adopted the new ordinance on Sept. 17.
The Alachua County Labor Coalition played a major role in pushing the city commission to pass this new ordinance. The coalition, which is made up of individuals, unions and organizations, focuses on improving economic, environmental and social rights in the community. Its members helped offer some of the energy efficiency standard recommendations and put together the new ordinance while collaborating with city and county commissioners, landlords and renters. The group had worked on passing the ordinance for four years.
The city hosted four webinars through late March and early April for renters, landlords and anyone concerned about this change. During the webinars, several questions and concerns emerged from the community regarding these changes.
Elizabeth Chazulle, the host of the webinars, said there will be a city commission meeting May 6 in which the community can again express concerns to the commission.
Chazulle said people can find useful information about this new ordinance on the city’s website under the Rental Housing Permits & Fees section. This section includes expected living standards and a list of a tenant’s rights and responsibilities.