Hillsborough leaders want DeSantis to act against rent increases during outbreak

The county’s emergency policy group will urge the governor to clarify if landlords can raise rents during a crisis
Hillsborough County Commissioner Les Miller in a 2019 photo.
Hillsborough County Commissioner Les Miller in a 2019 photo. [ JAMES BORCHUCK | Tampa Bay Times ]
Published Apr. 6, 2020|Updated Apr. 6, 2020

TAMPA — Hillsborough County Commissioner Les Miller said he’s been flooded with calls since the beginning of April from newly-unemployed renters who have been notified their rents are going up.

Miller persuaded members of the county’s Emergency Policy Group Monday to send a letter to Gov. Ron DeSantis asking him look into what can be done about rent increases when residents have lost jobs due to the coronavirus pandemic. People out of work can’t afford higher rents, Miller said.

“It’s just not the right way to do it,” Miler told reporters in a conference call after the group’s meeting Monday, referring to the rent hikes.

Commissioner Sandy Murman was more blunt, calling it “gouging” and urging Miller to contact Attorney General Ashley Moody’s office to investigate.

“I think that is outrageous that these landlords are raising rents when they know their tenants don’t have jobs,” Murman said during the meeting.

The policy group unanimously voted to send a letter to DeSantis urging him to clarify whether his statewide safer-at-home order enables landlords to raise rents during the coronavirus pandemic.

That letter will also ask for clarification from the governor’s office on whether his order includes a moratorium on commercial evictions. Murman said she’s heard reports of commercial landlords seeking to oust tenants.

“It’s starting to bubble up with many of our small business owners,” she said.

County Attorney Christine Beck also clarified for the group that DeSantis’ order on non-essential businesses goes further than the county’s order, which was replaced when the statewide order went into effect Friday.

The county order allowed non-essential businesses to stay open if they maintained a six-foot separation policy. The state order closes those businesses’ physical presence, although it allows them to remain open for deliveries and remote services.

“We had tried to be a little more lenient, but now it’s clear that the non-essential businesses must close,” Beck said in the virtual meeting.

Hillsborough County Administrator Mike Merrill said businesses seeking clarification should go to the coronavirus section of the county website:

The eight voting members of the group include Miller, Murman and Commissioner Kimberly Overman, Tampa Mayor Jane Castor, Sheriff Chad Chronister, school board chairwoman Melissa Snively, Plant City Mayor Rick Lott and Temple Terrace Vice Mayor Andy Ross.

Although they didn’t vote on the matter, Snively and Miller said the county should research if rental scooters and bikes should be allowed in Tampa during the outbreak.

Snively said the bikes and scooters appeared to be a conduit for infections and other cities had banned them. Miller agreed, saying he sees rental bikes left in his East Tampa neighborhood for days before being picked up.

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Castor said that rental scooter and bike use is way down and that rental companies have been cleaning the bikes and scooters three times a day. She said they’re an important transportation tool for many city residents.

Beck said she would research the issue and report back to the group at its Thursday meeting.

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