Some Landlords Not On Board With City Council Bill Meant To Protect Commercial Tenants

Jun 8, 2018

Jacksonville City Councilwoman Joyce Morgan wants business owners to receive more information about properties before they enter into leases. She’s introduced legislation to require it.

In a public meeting about the bill Friday, she said she’s had several of her Arlington constituents come to her after spending thousands of dollars to fix code violations or break leases because they weren’t aware of building requirements associated with the building’s new use.

She said many of them are first-time business owners using all their savings.

One of those constituents is Friends Community Church of Jacksonville Pastor Herb Anderson.

Anderson said his new ministry had moved into a closed-down church on University Boulevard.

“We met with the landlord, he showed us the facility,” Anderson said. “The facility looked great.”

Anderson paid about $7,000 in rent upfront, put up new signage and started remodeling. Then he found out about a long list of code violations.

“After the fact [we] found out the church that was there before was actually put out because of code violations,” he said.

That’s why Morgan’s bill would require landlords to provide tenants with a building confirmation letter from the city stating the current or last known use of the property and information as to whether additional upgrades may be required for the proposed new use.

City Building Inspection Chief Tom Goldsbury said the issue many tenants run into is over how the space is being used. Even if a space isn’t remodeled, when use changes, so do rules. He said for example, if a tenant wants to change a former office space into an internet cafe it’s now an “assembly space.” The new use could mean the tenant will have to add bathrooms or exits.

But many landlords at the meeting weren’t keen on the ordinance, saying it shifts a burden that should be on the tenant, onto the landlord.

“All of the records that everybody talked about today that they want to see are public records,” said Koko Head, General Counsel for Hakimian Holdings.

Head’s company owns about 20 shopping centers in the region includings ones like the Merchants Walk center with Carrabba's Italian Grill on San Jose Boulevard.

He and other landlords at the meeting said the bill carries unintended consequences, one being having to wait on the city’s building inspection division to provide the documents needed.

Building Inspection Chief Goldsbury confirmed the department is already overburdened.

Another option allowed under the bill would be getting the same information required from the city from an architect instead, which would carry additional cost.

Those opposing the bill said most landlords provide their tenants with all the information they have, wanting them to be successful. Several suggested Morgan’s efforts instead be focused on education campaigns, saying it’s up to the tenant to practice due diligence.

Goldsbury suggested shifting the burden to the tenants, requiring they seek the information.

For now, Morgan has deferred her bill while she hears from both sides.

“This is an important bill and I think that if we can get both sides to really look at how we can work it out it’s going to be a fantastic bill and it’s really going to do something in this city that needs to be done,” she said.

Reporter Lindsey Kilbride can be reached at lkilbride@wjct.org, 904-358-6359 or on Twitter at @lindskilbride.