Hillsborough approves tenant bill of rights

The 5-1 vote means landlords can’t discriminate against Section 8 voucher recipients.
The Hillsborough County Commission approved a tenants bill of rights Wednesday.  (Times 2018)
The Hillsborough County Commission approved a tenants bill of rights Wednesday. (Times 2018) [ SUSAN TAYLOR MARTIN | Susan Taylor Martin ]
Published March 3, 2021|Updated March 3, 2021

TAMPA — Hillsborough commissioners adopted new rights for housing tenants Wednesday with the ordinance’s leading advocate, Commissioner Kimberly Overman, saying it was ”critically important to look at this opportunity to reinforce who we are and who we stand for in our community.”

The ordinance, dubbed a tenant bill of rights, is intended to aid affordable housing efforts and to protect people from potential homelessness.

It requires landlords to provide tenants with a notice of their housing rights under existing laws, a list available resources for tenants’ assistance and disclosure of late fees that can be assessed. Most notably, the ordinance prohibits landlords from discriminating against someone with a lawful source of income, including Section 8 housing vouchers.

“If nobody accepts those vouchers, they are useless,” said Commissioner Mariella Smith.

She said 10,000 families in the county use the vouchers, and about two-thirds of the recipients are people of color. Allowing landlords to reject voucher-holders as tenants “is allowing our community to say we don’t serve a certain class of people,” Smith said.

The commission approved the ordinance by a 5-1 vote with Commissioner Stacy White dissenting and Commissioner Harry Cohen absent.

Prior to the vote, close to a dozen speakers debated the ordinance’s merits. Some called it an undue burden on mom-and-pop landlords while others said the opponents were seeking to continue discriminatory practices.

David Sigler, a Brandon Realtor who also manages rental properties for landlords, said the system’s requirements could prove “cumbersome and difficult at times to work with” for individual homeowners. He suggested it could reduce the number of available rental units on the market, “which I believe is just the opposite of what the intention here is.”

But, Elizabeth Strom, an associate professor at the University of South Florida’s School of Public Affairs, said “landlords who play by the rules should have no concern about an effort to inform tenants of their rights.”

Related: Hillsborough considers tenant bill or rights

Eric Garduño, government affairs director for Bay Area Apartment Association, asked the commission to strike the provision covering source of income. That language proved too controversial in the city of St. Petersburg, which excised the provision before adopting its ordinance in 2019.

Others objected to such an idea.

“We need to put an end to discriminatory practices,” said Sharon Graham. “This is a racial justice issue.”

Related: With controversial language removed, St. Pete tenant bill of rights approved

About 42 percent of the county’s housing stock is tenant occupied, said Strom.

There are more than 126,000 units in 7,723 apartment buildings in the county, according to the Hillsborough County Property Appraiser’s Office. Additionally, more than 93,000 single-family homes and nearly 20,000 homes in duplexes and similar multi-unit structures do not have homestead exemptions and could be used as rental properties.