Hillsborough ‘Tenant’s Bill of Rights’ gives new protections to renters

New protections for renters in Hillsborough County got the green light Wednesday.  Commissioners approved a Tenant’s Bill of Rights that takes effect later this month.

The skyline of downtown Tampa keeps growing, while access to affordable housing in the county is shrinking.

"Hillsborough County has about 42% of its units rented rather than owned, and on average, our renting population is drawn from the more vulnerable of our residents," said one woman who told commissioners she is a housing researcher.

Nearly a dozen people spoke out during a public hearing at Wednesday’s Board of County Commissioners meeting debating the Tenant’s Bill of Rights.

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Supporters say the document will help people using housing vouchers as rental payment.

"We need to put an end to the discriminatory practices that create barriers to housing," another woman said.

While those opposed calling the expanded protections an undue burden on mom-and-pop property owners.

"It’s going to be an administrative and regulatory burden on them and it’s also going to reduce their rental income," said one landlord.

The ordinance does three main things: requires landlords to provide renters with a notice of their rights and resources; bans turning applicants away based solely on how they plan to pay including section 8, housing choice vouchers, or veterans affairs vouchers; and mandates written notice be given to tenants before they’re slapped with late fees.

The new rules do not stop property owners from requiring potential tenants to pass a reasonable financial check or credit check.

"It is critically important that we look at this opportunity to reinforce who we are and who we stand for in our community," Commissioner Kimberly Overman said.

The Tenant’s Bill of Rights was approved without much debate.

It is set to take effect March 15 with about a three-month grace period before fines for violating the ordinance will be enforced.