A proposed ordinance could provide tenants with more time to prepare for significant rent hikes that have become a common occurrence in St. Petersburg.
During Thursday’s Housing, Land Use and Transportation Committee meeting, City Council Chair Gina Driscoll said she called for the new business item as part of an ongoing effort to create a better environment for the city’s renters. She also hopes to strengthen relationships between tenants and landlords in an area that has seen rental prices increase by 25-35% over the past year.
The city currently does not require any notice of rental price increases outside of contractual stipulations.
Using recently passed ordinances in Tampa and Miami as a model, Brad Tennant, assistant city attorney, led a discussion on what a mandated notice of price increases could look like in St. Petersburg.
“I want to invite everyone to see this as a foundation, a starting point,” said Driscoll. “And we can make adjustments based on our discussion today and hopefully move forward with a good ordinance that will give better protections for our residents who rent … ”
Tennant explained the draft ordinance would require landlords to give residents a warning of any price increases over 5%. An annual lease would require 60 days’ notice, 30 days for a quarterly agreement and month-to-month renters would receive 21 days’ notice.
The landlord must provide the notice in writing – either through mail or as a letter attached to the door of the property – unless other means of communication were agreed upon in the lease, such as a verifiable email.
If a renter does not receive the stipulated notice, they could make a complaint to the city. Tennant said the code and compliance department would enforce the ordinance.
Councilmember Richie Floyd relayed that several community members and organizations would like to see a 180-day warning for significant price increases on annual leases. He also noted the hesitancy of some officials to lengthen the amount of notice due to potential litigation and the inability of landlords to foresee market rate increases that far in advance.
“Inflation of costs is not likely to be more than 5% in 180 days,” said Floyd, using the national rate of 9.1% over a year as an example.
Tennant explained the 60-day threshold aligns with ordinances in other cities and state statutes, and the established precedent provides St. Pete with a tangential benefit should it ever end up before a judge.
However, Tennant did say that according to the Homeless Leadership Alliance, it takes a resident an average of 69 days to find new housing in Pinellas County. The process takes even longer for those with housing vouchers, with an average of 105 days.
“What we’ve done is, we have drafted something as conservative as possible,” said Tennant. “And by conservative, I mean as risk-averse as possible – something we think is as bulletproof as can be made.”
Driscoll clarified that the ordinance does not give a landlord the right to raise prices outside of a rental agreement if they provide the mandated notice.
Councilmember Brandi Gabbard said she hoped to strike a balance between landlords and tenants and was afraid that mandating a 180-day rental increase notice would place an unfair burden on the “mom-and-pops” that own one or two rental houses.
While she was unsure of the statistics in St. Petersburg, Gabbard said that nationally, 40% of the rental inventory falls under that category.
“What ends up happening is either they terminate and go to another tenant, so now we have a worse problem for our tenants, or they sell these properties,” said Gabbard. “And because these properties are so valuable in today’s market, they either go to people actually wanting to buy them and live in them – so they come out of the rental inventory – or these corporations buy them up.
“I don’t want us to kind of fuel that part of the market.”
If passed, the city would provide an education period for landlords before enforcement. Every non-homestead residential property in St. Petersburg would also receive a notice advising of a change.
Floyd motioned for the ordinance to require 180 days’ notice of price increases for annual leases, although it failed to garner any support from his colleagues. Driscoll said extending the mandate to six months could lead to landlords forgoing the longer term in favor of a month-to-month agreement, which would only require 21 days.
Floyd said landlords are holding the city hostage, and “if we’re just going to continue to push people out of the city, then I think we’ve got bigger problems than can be solved by this ordinance.
“I’m here interested in talking about people who need a roof over their head.”
The committee did approve the draft ordinance to require 60 days’ notice for yearly price increases over 5% and 21 days for monthly rentals. James Corbett, city development administrator, said he would need about 60 days to conduct community outreach before bringing the proposed ordinance before the city council.
Driscoll said she would like to see an effective date 60 days after approval.
Corbett also noted the city is hiring a staff member to focus solely on tenants’ rights issues and eviction diversion. He said interviews are taking place this week, and the city is looking to fill the position “in very short order.”