What You Missed October 2015 General Meeting
by Rob Earhart
Hillsborough County Code Enforcement
Presented by: David Cansler
October 6, 2015
David addressed us with: “I was a public safety officer until I started in this department 8 years ago. We are a community service citing infractions of the codes and end up being first responders for hurricanes, floods, etc.
“I work for Hillsborough County, not Tampa, Temple Terrace, or Plant City. We are down from 52 inspectors to 12 that we have now. We are hiring more people, but we cannot be around the county as much as we used to be.”
We deal with life safety issues and quality of life issues. The Life Safety issues are the most important since the safety of the population is of concern.
The foreclosure issues are decreasing, but there are still a lot of vacant bank-owned homes. The banks don’t want to maintain the houses but want to leave them until the market turns. Some banks are easier to deal with and will get grass cut and properties secured.
We have hired Champions, a third party company that follows up with the banks, to make sure they maintain the properties. Since then we have resolved many more cases.
“We deal with our jobs like the food pyramid. At the bottom is mow your grass, then gutters broken; the top of the pyramid would be the roof collapsing.” We have also dealt with meth labs, drug dealers, traffickers, and all other types of infractions.
With renters, when they don’t want to pay the rent, they call the government. I will explain to them that if they are just calling because they are being evicted, it won’t help them, it will just help the next tenant. Most of the time if it’s not a life-safety issue, and the landlord is evicting them, we just put it on the back burner.
We are complaint driven. The typical is “my toilet does not work,” “the heater doesn’t work,” etc., and “I want to remain anonymous.”
If I want to write something up, there are enough codes that I could find something wrong. David talked about some case studies.
Our code board is a quasi-judicial system, made up of regular citizens. The appellate process is through the court system. We have to get signed consent before we go on someone’s property.
Everybody needs a place to live, but may not have the money to live in a Trump Towers, but can afford Mobile Drive. We’re taking on a block, and we took seven guys and walked the street. We wrote up several houses and cleaned up a lot of the street.
If everybody cares, everyone keeps up their properties. We try to clean up the areas and allow the other tenants to keep up their properties and enjoy a nice neighborhood.
David opened up the discussion to questions.
In the case of auctions, how can we clean up the liens? David notified us that, “All county liens are negotiable. I have seen them negotiate it down to 10% of the lien, but they won’t zero them out because there had to be a reason for the lien. They want costs covered. Our liens run for 20 years and they then sunset. Most people clean them up by then. We are now at around 13,000 cases for the year, and we refer about 2% to the magistrate.”
The process is, I write up a strongly-worded letter giving them 15 days or so to correct the issue. Then we send a certified letter and things get serious. Your count then starts, business days. If you don’t fix it we refer you to a magistrate. We are scheduling about 30 cases a hearing, 3 hearings per month. If you appear, you can say your piece. You can then get an extension of time to correct the issues.
“If there is a case of working without a permit, the building department has code compliance officers and have a sheriff deputy attached to them.” David warned, “if work is being done without a license, the workers could be arrested.”
How does code enforcement differentiate between deed-restricted and non? In The Greens a house sat vacant for 5 years and deteriorated. Is there anything Codes would do? David explained that “we would have written it up, if someone complained. In foreclosure issues, until the bank takes it over, the last person who owned it is responsible and they are gone, so we intervene.”
“Our number one priority is pool security. We require them to make it safe, and tarps qualify if they are UV safe. If there is no one else doing it, the county has begun securing them. For a pool to be maintained, we need to see the bottom, and be free of insect infestation, so we can see if anyone is in the pool.”
Can you do anything about noise? “In residential, yes, but we do not get involved between two neighbors.”
Do you cut grass? “We will if it’s abandoned,” explained David.
I have a property by CSX property and there are tires there. Can you write them up? “No, it is federal property and we cannot write them up. I tried one time and found out that we cannot cite CSX, HUD, VA, State, or Federal properties.”
When is the landlord responsible for the tenant issues? “The owner is responsible for all building issues. We do not enforce deed restrictions, but we can enforce the grass if it’s over 10” high. We don’t force them to put grass in the yards.”
Do you treat bandit signs? “We pick them up and take them to the dump. If the sign is connected to a specific building, we can cite them. We also pick up political signs. We used to have to give them back to the different people but now we take them to the dump. Private citizens can put them on their own property. We do not work a lot on the weekends, but the last time I worked on a Saturday, I picked up 550 signs.
Do you list code violations online? “You can go to MuniCode.com, which archives the violations, just put in the city or county.”
David warned, “The two things that get you caught are not mowing your grass and not keeping the trash out of the yard. Whoever owns the dirt is responsible; if you make it the tenant’s responsibility, that is a civil issue, not a code issue.”
What about lead-based paint? “We don’t check for paint. Even the asbestos shingles on the side of houses are exempt.”
David closed with, “I am a firm believer that someone that works for the people in the government should have rapport with every person, and I try to get along with everyone.”