TAMPA — Hillsborough County is considering a tenant bill of rights intended to aid renters facing potential homelessness amid the coronavirus pandemic.
The proposed ordinance, yet to be written, was suggested by Commissioner Kimberly Overman. Commissioners agreed to consider the proposal on Feb. 17 and then schedule a future public hearing before a final vote.
“I think we all know there are many renters who may not know their rights” under state and federal housing laws, said Overman. “Having a renter’s bill of rights in our county will clarify for both landlords and tenants what the terms of agreement are and how to allow them to work effectively together in order to avoid the legal disputes, appearances in court or potentially, homelessness.”
The intent is to require landlords to provide tenants with a notice of their housing rights under existing laws and also a list available resources for tenants’ assistance. The proposal also would prohibit landlords from discriminating against someone who has a lawful source of income, including Section 8 housing vouchers.
That lawful source of income clause proved to be too controversial in the city of St. Petersburg, which removed the provision before approving its tenant bill of rights in 2019. Miami-Dade and Broward counties have local ordinances that prohibit discriminating based on income source.
“Tenants who rely on housing choice vouchers (also known as Section 8 vouchers) to pay their rent can have a more difficult time finding available affordable housing, and available affordable housing in desirable areas, because landlords are not required to accept the vouchers,” Cheryl Howell, director of the county’s affordable housing services, wrote in a memo to commissioners.
“This is a step we can take to bring equity to the non-homeowning residents within the county,” said Overman who reminded commissioners of the demands for housing help last year amid the pandemic.
In April and May 2020, nearly 4,900 applied for assistance when the county made $15 million available as part of the rapid-response funding from the federal Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security (CARES) Act. It broadened the county’s existing programs providing rent, mortgage and utility payments to new clients.
Without the federal assistance, the county typically spends about $8 million annually helping the needy. Eventually, the county re-opened the program to additional applicants because some failed to qualify or didn’t follow through on the application process.