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Temple Terrace landlord says ‘warrantless searches’ in city housing-compliance program unconstitutional

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A landlord is suing the City of Temple Terrace over what he claims is an unconstitutional housing compliance program.

Lea Family Partnership owns eight rental properties, seven of which are in Temple Terrace.

In the class action complaint, Lea Family is suing the City of Temple Terrace and Len Valenti, the city’s Housing Compliance Officer.

Lea Family claims the implementation of the Rental Housing Program is a violation of protections under the Fourth, Fifth and 14th Amendments. They claim the program imposes “warrantless” searches of property owners’ homes without probable cause, before the owner can rent them out.

The company is asking the Hillsborough County’s 13th Judicial Court to declare the program unconstitutional.

In 2016 alone, Lea Family paid $1,200 to the city for rental inspection fees. Since the start of the program in 2012, fees have cost Lea Family $3,800 in all.

Len Valenti is responsible for implementing the program. He sends out letters demanding compliance with the program, threatening those who don’t with fines or imprisonment, according to the suit.

In 2001, Temple Terrace enacted the Rental Housing Code, modified in 2012. The new code allows for certain properties to be searched for violations in housing codes as well as other related codes. The turnout of the search can either approve or deny a property for rental.

Despite the decision, property owners are required to pay the minimum $225 per unit on the initial application. Yearly renewal is $200 each.

As of September 2016, Temple Terrace had approximately 2,355 rentals that qualify for inspection. Lea Family is suing on behalf of all property owners affected by this program.

Lea Family is calling to prohibit the city from any more of these “warrantless searches” of its properties under the program, and seek to cease paying “coercive” permit fees.

 

Phil Ammann is a St. Petersburg-based journalist and blogger. With more than three decades of writing, editing and management experience, Phil produced material for both print and online, in addition to founding HRNewsDaily.com. His broad range includes covering news, local government and culture reviews for Patch.com, technical articles and profiles for BetterRVing Magazine and advice columns for a metaphysical website, among others. Phil has served as a contributor and production manager for SaintPetersBlog since 2013. He lives in St. Pete with his wife, visual artist Margaret Juul and can be reached at phil@floridapolitics.com and on Twitter @PhilAmmann.

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