The Cawton Report: Developers protest proposed leasing rule change

Legislation would require a “Building Confirmation Letter” to provide potential tenants with information about what is needed to bring a building up to code.

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  • | 5:20 a.m. June 14, 2018
City Council member Joyce Morgan, at the head of the table, met with landlords and small business owners over a proposal to require a “Building Confirmation Letter” before a property can be leased.
City Council member Joyce Morgan, at the head of the table, met with landlords and small business owners over a proposal to require a “Building Confirmation Letter” before a property can be leased.
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Commercial real estate developers were not happy Friday about legislation that could change the way they lease space to tenants.

At a public meeting hosted by City Council member Joyce Morgan, area commercial property owners pushed back on her proposed ordinance requiring a “Building Confirmation Letter” from the Building Inspection Division of the city’s Planning and Development Department.

The confirmation letter would provide a potential tenant with the site’s current or last known use and detail physical or mechanical upgrades that may be required for the new tenant’s business as they relate to building or fire codes.

The legislation also would allow landlords to present certification from a Florida-licensed architect in lieu of one from the Building Inspection Division.

The change would prevent property owners from leasing space to tenants before obtaining the letter.  

About two dozen landlords and small business owners attended the hourlong meeting to discuss the bill.

Koko Head, general counsel for Hakimian Holdings, said the change could unfairly shift a burden currently on the tenant to the landlord.

“It’s basically restricting the right to contract between tenants and landlords, and forcing them into a channel where they have to go to the city first at the landlord’s expense,” he said.

He also wasn’t keen on potentially incurring additional costs by having to hire an architect to provide the certification, although he said commercial property owners more than likely will hire architects to make sure the process isn’t delayed.

“We should call this the ‘full employment act for architects,’” Head said, explaining that property owners will need to rely on them to meet the requirements on time.

City Building Inspection Chief Tom Goldsbury said the bill can be altered, possibly requiring the tenant to obtain the confirmation letter.

“I don’t have a problem with that,” Goldsbury said. “I’d love to have the tenant come in so I can explain.”

Goldsbury said his office will not proactively do preinspections, since his staff already is “overburdened” with its current workload.

Instead, he said the office would provide the tenant with the most current inspection information.

Restaurateur Miles Davis said he’s currently fighting his former landlord in court, claiming it failed to disclose code violations at the building before he signed his lease.

Davis said it’s a common problem for small business owners who don’t have experience with leasing commercial space.

“The tenant, particularly small business owners, should have some sense that if this is available to me for lease, this structure is a viable product,” he said, adding that “some assumptions are not unreasonable.”

Davis said it shouldn’t be difficult for a landlord to ensure that the property is up to code and appropriate for the intended use.

In response, Head and other representatives argued that most legitimate companies in North Florida work with tenants to avoid issues.

The bill is deferred so “both sides can have input,” Morgan said.

“I hear the landlord saying, we’re going to pass it on to the tenants. Well that’s understandable because the tenant’s going to pass that along to their customers through the services they provide,” she said.

Morgan said she’ll proceed with the bill only when both sides agree how to proceed so that the legislation can “do something in this city that needs to be done.”

Mayor Lenny Curry, flanked by JAX Chamber President Daniel Davis, left, and Dane Grey, JAXBIZ board chair, accepts the endorsement of JAXBIZ.
Mayor Lenny Curry, flanked by JAX Chamber President Daniel Davis, left, and Dane Grey, JAXBIZ board chair, accepts the endorsement of JAXBIZ.

Mayor Curry lands JAX Chamber endorsement

Mayor Lenny Curry received the backing of JAXBIZ on Tuesday for his 2019 re-election campaign, nearly eight months before the election.

JAXBIZ, a political action committee that advocates on behalf of the JAX Chamber, backed Curry over former Mayor Alvin Brown in 2015.

“JAXBIZ is looking to turn a corner,” said JAXBIZ Board Chair Dane Grey.

“We’re looking to hold our political leaders accountable for their actions, whether good or bad,” he said.

Grey said Curry kept campaign promises of passing pension reform, encouraging Downtown development and creating jobs.

“We’re supporting him because he’s doing everything he’s said he would do for us,” Grey said.

Curry, a Republican, is three years into his first four-year term in office.

Election Day is March 19. If Curry fails to secure a majority of votes in March, he could face an opponent May 14.

JAX Chamber President Daniel Davis said it was “very clear” who the group should endorse.

“We want to make sure that everyone in the community’s on board and we’re moving the train down the tracks,” he said.

While no big-name candidate has entered the race, Democrat Doreszell Cohen, Republican Jimmy Hill and independents Connell Crooms and Vishaun Grissett have filed to run.

City Council President Anna Lopez Brosche previously said she would not rule out a run, but a decision would come after her council presidency ends June 30.

Davis said the endorsement of Curry stands, regardless of competition.

“There’s tons of momentum happening in Jacksonville and we don’t want to lose any of that traction,” Davis said.

Since filing in March, Curry’s re-election campaign raised $2 million between his personal campaign account and the Jacksonville on the Rise PAC, which supports him.

Curry said getting off to a fast start is “just how I’m built.”

“The record’s clear,” Curry said. “I’ve delivered on everything I said I’d deliver but I’m not resting on that,” he said.

According to the website, JAXBIZ “promotes business-friendly leadership within local and state government through the endorsement of pro-business candidates who display a commitment to economic growth.”

The group’s other endorsements this year include Republican Gov. Rick Scott in his bid to unseat incumbent U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson, and Republican Wyman Duggan over Democrat Tracye Polson in the race to replace state Rep. Jay Fant in House District 15. They’re on the Nov. 6 ballot.