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St. Petersburg seeks to opt out of Pinellas County’s tenants bill of rights

The city has its own tenants bill of rights, but critics say the county’s protects tenants more.
Protesters from the St. Petersburg Tenants Union gather at the Stanton Apartments in October 2021.
Protesters from the St. Petersburg Tenants Union gather at the Stanton Apartments in October 2021. [ LAUREN PEACE | Times ]
Published Dec. 1, 2022|Updated Dec. 2, 2022

ST. PETERSBURG — The city has had a tenant bill of rights for about three years, but Pinellas County adopted its own version in August. And that ordinance, advocates say, trumps the city’s when it comes to protecting renters.

The St. Petersburg City Council took a first vote to formally opt out of the county program so it can continue overseeing enforcement of its own rules within city limits. But acknowledging the county ordinance offers stronger protections for tenants, the council left open the possibility of adjusting its ordinance to more closely copy county rules.

The vote to opt out of the county program was unanimous. The council also approved a rule prohibiting landlords from rejecting prospective tenants who rely on government assistance for one-time move-in expenses, such as a deposit. Council member Ed Montanari voted against the new rule.

A final hearing on the proposals is scheduled for Thursday.

Council members may hold a discussion to strengthen its tenant bill of rights to match the county’s. That could mean further strengthening protections for tenants who rely on government financial assistance. It would also extend the window for the government to complete inspections required for certain renters who receive public assistance, from five days to 10.

Council member Brother John Muhammad asked for those changes to be made to the proposed ordinance before Thursday’s final hearing. But council member Deborah Figgs-Sanders cautioned against that, saying those changes, along with the new ordinances about move-in costs, could get voted down if the proper vetting process isn’t followed. That means running the changes past the council’s housing, land use and transportation committee.

“In the very near future, we will be bringing this back with the changes that align with the county in those areas that are stronger than our ordinance,” Muhammad said.

Organizers with the St. Petersburg Tenants Union said they were glad to see Muhammad consider the changes, but said moving the discussion back to a committee was a stalling tactic.

“It’s sad that we were sitting here splitting hairs over five days or 10 days,” said organizer William Kilgore. “All of them know exactly what these things are. They could have had a discussion today about it and moved it forward.”

“They’re loopholes,” said organizer Karla Correa.

Pinellas County’s tenants bill of rights covers all municipalities and unincorporated areas. According to the county’s housing and community development director, Carol Strickland, St. Petersburg is the only municipality to have an existing tenant bill of rights, and they are the only municipality the county is aware of that plans on opting out of county enforcement.