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City officials scrap Tenant Bill of Rights

Mark Parker

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St. Petersburg city officials must repeal the local Tenant Bill of Rights to comply with a new state law. Photo: St. Pete Tenants Union, Facebook.

Years of work to establish and enhance local renter protections is now all for naught due to a recently enacted state law.

The St. Petersburg City Council held a first reading of an ordinance repealing the city’s Tenant Bill of Rights at its July 20 meeting. The about-face was due to House Bill 1417 first filed by Rep. Tiffany Esposito, R-Fort Myers.

Some council members expressed their desire to keep income discrimination safeguards and other aspects of the local law. However, City Attorney Jackie Kovilaritch emphasized that the repealment process must proceed as scheduled.

“I don’t think we can wait,” Kovilaritch said. “The repeal has to happen – in my opinion, legally – as soon as possible. If you want to continue the further discussion, that’s fine, but I think they have to be separate.”

City officials adopted the Tenants Bill of Rights in 2019. It took effect in February 2020 and underwent several amendments to strengthen protections as the city’s affordable housing stock dwindled.

The Bill of Rights prohibited discrimination based on race, color, religion and characteristics commonly found in state and federal statutes. It also went further, including familial status, sexual orientation, gender identity and other unique aspects.

Local rents increased by around 30% in the first two years of the pandemic. The council closed a loophole allowing landlords to deny prospective tenants receiving federal housing vouchers in December 2022.

In March, they discussed creating a “rental registry” that would have included owner and site information to promote transparency. Council members voted 7-1 at a May meeting to explore funding for a long-discussed program that provides pro-bono legal counsel for low-income tenants.

Local leaders will likely shelve most of those measures due to state interference. HB 1417 became law July 1 and states that “the regulation of residential tenancies, the landlord-tenant relationship, and all other matters covered under this part are preempted to the state.”

“It’s really frustrating when you have organizations lobbying to pull away the last little bit of sensible regulations that we have in our city,” said Councilmember Richie Floyd. “I guess because their profit margin is not high enough, and anything that stands in their way is unacceptable to them.

“We have something small that can help tenants, and people we interact with regularly are constantly trying to claw back. It’s very, very frustrating to me – and quite frankly, embarrassing that people would be so brazen.”

Councilmember Richie Floyd said a recent report showed regional housing costs have soared by around 55%. Screengrab.

William Kilgore, an organizer with the St. Pete Tenants Union, said local officials in other areas are exploring keeping their renters’ protections and only removing certain aspects. Floyd asked Bradley Tennant, assistant city attorney, for his thoughts.

Tennant explained that local leaders could discuss separate ordinances regarding discriminatory practices. However, he said St. Petersburg’s legislation includes “multiple cross-references” to local code defining residential tenants – now preempted.

Any additional discussions require a new business item motion and must advance through the committee process. Floyd called the situation disturbing.

Councilmember John Muhammad noted that the city’s 1968 sanitation strike – which helped change Jim Crow era practices – occurred the same year state leadership approved “home rule.” The state constitution recognizes that cities may enact local ordinances and self-govern – “so long as the city’s law does not conflict with state and federal law.”

“There are some opportunities to look at where we can use our home rule power to be more specific to discrimination,” Tennant said. “As opposed to our Tenants Bill of Rights, which is very specific to the landlord-tenant relationship.”

While Councilmember Gina Driscoll said the council should immediately comply with the new law, she also suggested “starting something fresh.” She would like city attorneys to present specific, allowable options to the Housing, Land Use and Transportation Committee.

City officials did not set that process or timeline at the meeting. The first reading of a motion to repeal St. Petersburg’s Tenant Bill of Rights passed unanimously.

Floyd did not participate in the vote, and Councilmember Lisset Hanewicz was absent. A second reading and public hearing will occur Aug. 3.

 

 

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7 Comments

7 Comments

  1. Avatar

    Mick S

    July 24, 2023at6:29 am

    If they really wanted to solve the housing crisis, they would push for homeownership, not the WEF model of “own nothing and be happy.” Assistance on a down payment and/or monthly mortgage payments instead of no ownership and the wealth gap continuing to grow. Ownership responsibilities mentioned above make for a better and more cohesive community. Mayoral candidate Robert Blackmon had some similar sentiments. Worth a shot before we are a another Seattle, Chicago, and NYC.

  2. Avatar

    Dustin B

    July 23, 2023at10:44 pm

    Steve, if you as a landlord are doing all of those things then the tenant that resides in your property has little to worry about. It’s the one taking advantage of residents that are the problem. Also, sell the property to someone that wants to live it in permanently and you wouldn’t have to deal with a bit of that.

  3. Avatar

    Carrie Jean

    July 23, 2023at4:02 pm

    I don’t live in a house with 5 bedrooms and a dock out back… why? Because I can’t afford. Do I complain and tell the government I SHOULD be able to afford that? No, I work hard til I can afford it.

  4. Avatar

    Steve D

    July 23, 2023at7:39 am

    Of course, fine citizens who actually own, maintain, insure, manage, pay taxes on, and assume all liability risks of property ownership have a completely different viewpoint than the dystopian outlook of other commenters here. This so-called “Bill of Rights” should have been named, “The Trial Lawyers & Squatters Dream Bill”.

  5. Avatar

    Pete Catalyst's

    July 22, 2023at11:58 pm

    It’s called capitalism and it don’t work never has never will the only industrialized so-called civil country has never ever given rights to even its original habitants it’s enslaved workers and future generations.

    “The American dream, you have to be asleep to believe it.”

    — George Carlin

  6. Avatar

    jbond

    July 22, 2023at7:46 pm

    This is what happens when absolute power corrupts absolutely!! No empathy for “the least of these”. Why can’t tenants have rights? They are paying your mortgage!! We’ve been outmanned and out maneuvered THIS time.Those in authority are afraid to speak up out of fear of loosing their jobs!! Sounds familiar?? Our voices arent loud enough and the votes aren’t there, yet. This man wants to CONTROL every aspect of our lives and his party’s legislatures have rolled over and are allowing him to do so.This is not the will of the people!! I know people who voted for this guy and are shocked by what he’s allowed to do!! They said he did a 360°. Can you imagine the horror we would live in with him “controlling” this country? Stay WOKE America …or there won’t be an America. Realize what’s happening all around you!! 🇺🇸

  7. Avatar

    Denise

    July 22, 2023at3:02 pm

    All the work done by affordable housing advocates for the last 12 years down the drain. So disheartening and frankly, sickening. Developers are so entrenched in the governments process and care ONLY about their profits. And DeSantis can care less about his constituents! FL has gone to the dogs!

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