Proposed Port Royal rental ordinance concerns some property owners

emoody@beaufortgazette.comJanuary 29, 2013 

Fran Heckrotte, of Orphan Homes Property Management, is photographed on Tuesday in front of a rental home her company manages in Port Royal. Some Realtors, property managers and home owners, including Heckrotte, are opposing a rental property ordinance being considered by Port Royal Town Council.

JAY KARR ' STAFF PHOTO — Jay Karr, staff photo

Alma Ceballos lives outside of Atlanta, but since 2004, she has owned a home in Port Royal that she rents out.

If she is subjected to new rules that Town Council is considering to try to cut down on "nuisance properties," she says she might cash out.

"It makes me feel like they don't want me as an owner, and right now, my feeling is to call my broker and say put everything up for sale," she said, adding that the ordinance would treat renters and their landlords as a "subclass."

Ceballos is one of several property owners and managers who intend to fight the proposed ordinance, approved on the first of two required readings Jan. 9. A public hearing is scheduled for Feb. 6 and a second vote for Feb. 14.

The town hopes to make owners and managers take more responsibility for the conditions of their properties and the activities around them, town manager Van Willis has said.

The proposed ordinance would require a property manager to be available to respond in person to problems. The owner can serve as manager but must be available to tend to any daily concerns.

Rental units also must be registered with the town, and the ordinance would allow, but not require, Town Council to charge a registration fee.

The town would create a points system to track problems such as noise and parking violations, disorderly conduct, and unsanitary conditions. If they accumulate too many points, owners could lose their business licenses for the property for a year.

"My problem with this is homeowners who rent their homes are being singled out from homeowners who occupy their homes," said Susan Trogdon of Bundy Appraisal & Management, which has more than 100 rental units in town.

Fran Heckrotte of Orphan Homes has 14 units in Port Royal, most of which are rented. She called the ordinance an "ugly law" and worries it is too subjective and could invite abuse. For example, a feuding neighbor could call in bogus complaints to rack up points -- not a farfetched possibility, Heckrotte said, citing a former tenant who carried a high school grudge against a neighbor.

Police Chief Alan Beach said his officers will handle complaints and violations the same way they do for other properties. They also respond to concerns about upkeep.

"We address those on an as-needed basis," he said. "If we see houses in disrepair, that's part of what our (Neighborhood Enhancement Team) does."

Mayor Sam Murray said town officials need to be able to contact an owner or manager immediately about some problems.

"We basically have a lot of absentee landlords -- people who are out of town, out of state -- and if something happens to the property, there's no one to get in touch with," he said. "We can spend weeks trying to get to somebody."

Murray does not foresee council charging for registration.

Matt Flewelling of Beaufort Rentals said the town would have to hire someone to manage all the paperwork if it does charge a fee. He is worried the fee would cut into owners' profits or cause rents to rise.

That's a conundrum Ceballos might not willingly face. She says she doesn't want to retire in a town considering such regulations nor continue to rent out property in it.

"I feel like telling someone I was born in Cuba, and I left because of communism," she said.

Follow reporter Erin Moody at twitter.com/IPBG_Erin.

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Short-term rental law ready to be put on books, July 15, 2011

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