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Pinellas expands tenant rights ahead of St. Pete protest

Mark Parker

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During Tuesday's board meeting, Pinellas County Commissioners approved a tenants bill of rights that offers more protections than St. Petersburg's. Photo courtesy of mit.edu.

After delaying a vote in June due to issues with the language and application of the ordinance, Pinellas County Commissioners have approved a tenants bill of rights.

The ordinance passed by a 5-2 vote following another lengthy debate and public forum, with Commissioners Dave Eggers and Kathleen Peters voting no. The bill requires landlords to provide more notice of rent increases and late fees and prohibits them from discriminating against tenants with housing vouchers.

The new bill of rights applies to renters across 24 county municipalities – although cities can opt out of the ordinance before it takes effect on Oct. 3. It also contains stronger protections than a similar measure in St. Petersburg. However, according to Commissioner Renee Flowers, that could soon change.

Flowers said she has discussed the measure with a city councilmember, and there is an upcoming workshop where city leaders will discuss additional language “that goes even farther than what we’re talking about here today.”

“There has been a request for consideration from the tenants rights group that they look at doing a referendum,” added Flowers. “We haven’t even discussed doing that.

“I don’t want us to chase the City of St. Pete’s ordinance because it’s going to be changing.”

An illustration showing the differences between the county and St. Petersburg’s ordinance. Screengrab.

The St. Pete Tenants Union is one of several community organizations hosting an “emergency sleep-in protest” at city hall Wednesday night. The event lasts until Thursday morning’s city council meeting, where participants will demand that councilmembers declare a housing state of emergency that would allow voters to decide on rent control measures through a ballot referendum.

The City of Tampa declared a housing state of emergency last week.

During Tuesday’s public forum, William Kilgore spoke on behalf of the tenants union. While he said his organization had some minor issues with the ordinance, he approved the measure and encouraged commissioners to vote yes without changes.

“We need you all to pass this today so that we can go back and get St. Pete to take some of these loopholes out,” said Kilgore. “We need help, tenants need help – and we need to have the tools for us to help advocate … ”

Kilgore, and the renters he spoke for, got their wish.

St. Petersburg’s ordinance allows landlords to deny prospective tenants receiving federal housing vouchers if the assistance impacts their insurance rates. The county does not offer that exception.

Carol Stricklin, housing and community development director for the county, explained that landlords requiring people to have an income of three times the rental price, without considering the vouchers, “would essentially disqualify low-income tenants from being able to access those leases.”

“If you had that much income, you wouldn’t need the voucher,” added County Administrator Barry Burton.

According to the ordinance, landlords must warn residents of rent increases higher than 5% on a tiered basis. An annual lease would require 60 days, 30 days for an agreement of three months or longer and month-to-month renters would receive 15 days’ notice.

St. Petersburg City Councilmembers approved a similar draft ordinance during a July committee meeting, although that proposed measure stipulated that those on a monthly agreement would receive 21 days’ notice.

The county ordinance also mandates that owners provide notice and justification for late fees and provide tenants with documentation of their rights.

Flowers noted the steady increase of people moving to the area from other parts of the country that offer higher wages. She said those transplants still find the region’s housing affordable, while natives find themselves priced out of their hometowns.

She said Pinellas County is losing what little available housing stock it has left, which also affects area businesses.

“We get reports all the time of a number of companies that can’t hire people because they can’t afford to live here,” added Flowers. “Or they can’t afford to travel between here, Polk and Pasco Counties, where the rent is a little cheaper.

“And trust me, the crawl is going out that way, as well.”

 

 

 

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4 Comments

4 Comments

  1. Avatar

    Stevie D

    August 3, 2022at3:52 pm

    Geez, we’re glad we live just outside the city limits of St. Pete. If anyone thinks that rent controls work, look at San Francisco, New York, and most recently, St. Paul, Minnesota, where it’s been a disaster. All caps do is chase people who build housing somewhere else, and incents landlords to not improve or maintain their properties.

  2. Avatar

    JohnG

    August 3, 2022at6:53 pm

    As a rental property owner (with very few rentals), I find the new requirements very acceptable and in fact already meet all of the proposed requirements in my rental agreements.
    As everyone knows, property values have increased significantly over the last two years and it is getting to be very difficult to offer “affordable “ housing.
    The expenses associated with rental properties are also increasing significantly; property taxes, insurance, materials when required for repairs or required restoration of structural and cosmetic improvements.
    Higher expenses require increases in rents because of the need for a reasonable return on investment. In this environment, that is difficult for all parties.

  3. Avatar

    Michael Johnson

    August 3, 2022at11:08 pm

    Rent increase is just typical government control. They’re using the citizens as an excuse.

  4. Avatar

    Thomas Randolph Hendershot

    August 5, 2022at12:36 pm

    What about the rentals that need a 60 day notice of moving out before the lease is up.i live in apts that require 60 days notice before the end of the lease.does this require 60 more days to make up my mind?

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