Update: Tenant Bill of Rights

Posted By: Eric Garduño Advocacy News ,

On Thursday, November 7, 2019, the St. Petersburg City Council voted unanimously to pass the Tenant Bill of Rights, an ordinance that prohibits housing discrimination against specific classes of people and institutes new notice requirements for late fees.  The ordinance will come into effect on February 8, 2020.  

Protected Classes

The ordinance prohibits housing discrimination in the City based on race, color, religion, sex, national origin, age, marital status, familial status, disability, sexual orientation, pregnancy, gender identity or expression, or veteran or service member status.  Note that this list is broader than what is required by Federal Fair Housing Law, which prohibits discrimination against race, color, religion, sex, national origin, familial status, and disability.  

It is important to note that the original version of the ordinance included “source of income” as a protected class.  This would have required landlords to accept prospective residents with Section 8 Housing Choice Vouchers if they met all other screening criteria.  Mandating landlord particiaption in the voucher program would have placed significant burdens and costs on many landlords.  Thanks to our fellow members who met with individual City Council members, and who spoke up against this provision during a recent City Council meeting, the City Council agreed to remove this provision.  

Late Fee Notice

The ordinance makes it unlawful to assess a late fee against a renter without first providing written notice to the renter.  The written notice must contain a statement that 1) a late fee has been incurred, 2) justification for the late fee, 3) the amount of the fee and if it accrues, an explanation of the rate at which the late fee will accrue, and 4) a reference to the language in the applicable rental agreement that establishes the amount of the fee.  The ordinance requires the late fee notice to be delivered by email, through certified mail, on paper and posted to the renter’s door, or on paper and hand delivered to the renter.   

To make it easier to prove that the late fee notice requirements were met, the ordinance establishes a rebuttable presumption in favor of the landlord if the landlord can produce one of the following that was sent or posted on the day the late fee was assessed: 1) a copy of the email sent to the renter, 2) a copy of a letter to the renter with a USPS dated certification, 3) a copy of the letter with a time-stamped photograph of the letter posted on the renters front door, or 4) a signed and dated affidavit by the delivery person certifying delivery to the renter.

Text

Below is the text of the ordinance, which should include all edits, including those made during last week's City Council meeting.  However, we are waiting to receive a final authoritative version from the City, which will be posted here when it becomes available.  Please feel free to reach out to Eric Garduno if you have any questions.


AN ORDINANCE OF THE CITY OF ST.PETERSBURG AMENDING CHAPTER 20 OF THE CITY CODE TO CREATE A NEW ARTICLE VII.  TENANT BILL OF RIGHTS;  PROVIDING AUTHORITY; PROVIDING APPLICABILITY; PROVIDING DEFINITIONS;  PROVIDING A SCHEDULE OF VIOLATIONS AND PENALTIES;  AND PROVIDING AN EFFECTIVE DATE

            THE CITY OF ST. PETERSBURG, FLORIDA DOES ORDAIN:

            SECTION ONE.  Chapter 20 of the St. Petersburg City Code is hereby amended to add a new Article VII to read as follows:

            Article VII.  TENANT BILL OF RIGHTS

            Section 20-300 – Authority

This Article has been enacted pursuant to the Home Rule powers of the City and authority of F.S. Ch. 162, Pt. II.  

          Section 20-301.  Applicability; non-applicability

Unless specifically enumerated, the provisions of this Article shall apply to all residential rental units, except those rental units governed exclusively by F.S. Ch. 723. 

          Section 20-302.  Findings

The City Council hereby makes the following findings:

(a)   Housing is an essential component of individual and community well-being, yet over 6,000 Pinellas County residents were without a home in 2018.

(b)   Rental units are an important part of the City’s available housing stock and renting continues to grow in popularity among City residents.

(c)   Protecting renters from eviction, discrimination, and unreasonable late fees is important to the City's social, economic, and environmental well-being.

Section  20-303. Definitions

For the purpose of this Article only, the following words shall have the following meanings:

Discriminatory Classification means a classification based in part or in whole on race, color, religion, sex, national origin, age, marital status, familial status, disability, sexual orientation, pregnancy, gender identity or expression, or veteran or service member status.

Housing means all residential units.

Landlord means a person or entity who  owns a Rental Unit, enters into a Rental Agreement with a Renter, or is a “Landlord”, as defined in Florida Statute § 83.43, as amended from time to time.

Late Fee means a charge of any kind, levied against a Renter, associated with the time or date on which a Renter pays their Rent, pursuant to a Rental Agreement.

Rent means consideration given in exchange for any non-permanent possession of a Rental Unit, or is “Rent”, as defined in Florida Statute § 83.43, as amended from time to time.

Renters means those who occupy a residential property, which they do not own, in exchange for consideration and by virtue of an agreement with the owner of such residential property, or are a “Tenant” as defined in Florida Statute § 83.43, as amended from time to time.

Rental Unit means a residential housing unit that is occupied by a Renter, or is a “Dwelling Unit”, as defined in Florida Statute § 83.43, as amended from time to time.

Rental Agreement means an agreement, either written or oral, by which a Renter is entitled to possess a Rental Unit in exchange for consideration, or is a “Rental Agreement”, as defined in Florida Statute § 83.43, as amended from time to time.

          Section  20-310. Discrimination in Housing

(a) This section is meant to embody the policies set forth in Titles II, III, and VII of the Federal Civil Rights Act of 1964, as amended, and Title VIII of the Federal Civil Rights Act of 1968, as amended, for the purpose of preventing discrimination against all individuals within the City in the procurement, acquisition, possession of, and dispossession of Rental Units, due to the use of Discriminatory Classifications, and thereby to promote the interests, rights, and privileges of individuals within the City.

(b) It shall be unlawful for any person, including but not limited to; any owner, lessee, lessor, sublessee, sublessor, assignee, assignor, manager, real estate broker, condominium association, homeowners' association, cooperative association, or any representative of any of the foregoing:

(1) To refuse to rent after the making of a bona fide offer, to refuse to negotiate for the rental of, or otherwise to make unavailable or deny, a Rental Unit to any person because of a Discriminatory Classification.

(2) To discriminate against any person in the terms, conditions, or privileges of the rental of a Rental Unit, or in the provision of services or facilities in connection therewith, because of a Discriminatory Classification.

(3) To represent to any person because of a Discriminatory Classification that any dwelling is not available for inspection or rental when such Rental Unit is in fact so available.

(4) To make, print, or publish, or cause to be made, printed, or published, any notice, statement, or advertisement with respect to the rental of a Rental Unit that indicates any preference, limitation, or discrimination based on a Discriminatory Classification, or an intention to make any such preference, limitation, or discrimination.

(5) To induce or attempt to induce, for profit, any person to rent any Rental Unit by a representation regarding the entry or prospective entry into the neighborhood of a person or persons distinguished by a Discriminatory Classification.

(c) Violations of this section of the St. Petersburg City Code shall be punishable by a fine of $500 for a first offense and any subsequent offenses.

(d) Additionally, the City may refer reported violations to any local, state, or federal authority. Investigation and enforcement by the City may occur concurrently with any investigation and enforcement actions by local, state, or federal authorities.

(e) This section does not create any private causes of action and may only be enforced as set forth herein.

          Section  20-320. Notice of Late Fees

(a) The City Council hereby makes the following specific findings:

(1) The need for housing is particularly acute for those at or below 120% of area median income.

(2) Certain provisions in Rental Agreements exist or may exist that are found to be unfair to Renters, or may contribute to economic and social unrest.

(3) Though reasonable late fees may be an important aspect of Rental Agreements, it is essential that Renters understand and know when they incur these fees.

(4) Because late fees may potentially impact the consideration given in Rental Agreements, the imposition of late fees may also impact when a Renter may be evicted.

(5) When Renters become homeless, the burden on the City to provide services to those individuals becomes significantly greater.

(b) It shall be unlawful for a Landlord to assess a Late Fee against a Renter without first providing written notice to the Renter(s), against whom the Late Fee is assessed, for each Late Fee assessed.

(c) This written notice shall be separate from any notice requirements provided for in a Rental Agreement and shall be required each time a new Late Fee is assessed. Only one notice shall be required if the same Late Fee continues to accrue after delivery of the notice.

(d) A written notice, for purposes of this section, shall include:

(1) A statement informing the Renter that:

(i) A Late Fee has been incurred;

(ii) The justification for the Late Fee;

(iii) The amount of the Late Fee which is due at the time of the notice, and if Late Fees will continue to accrue, a statement explaining the rate at which such fees will continue to accrue; and

(iv) A reference to the language in the applicable Rental Agreement which establishes the amount in which Late Fees are determined.

(2) A written notice, for purposes of this section, may be delivered:

(i) In an email to an email address provided by a Renter on a Rental Agreement or subsequent written agreement for receiving notices;

(ii) On paper, and delivered via certified mail to an address provided by a Renter on a Rental Agreement; or

(iii) On paper, and posted securely on the front door of the Rental Unit subject to the Late Fee; or

(iv) On paper, and hand delivered to the Renter.

(3) There shall be a rebuttable presumption that a Landlord has complied with this section if the Landlord can produce one of the following, which was sent or posted on the day the late fee was assessed:

(i) A copy of an email, with the required information set forth above, sent to an email address for the Renter that is provided for as a contact method in that Renter’s written Rental Agreement or subsequent written agreement; or

(ii) A copy of a written and dated letter, with the required information set forth above, and either: (1) a dated certification from the USPS of delivery of the letter to an address for the Renter that is provided for as a contact method in that Renter’s written Rental Agreement, or (2) a time-stamped photograph of the letter clearly posted on the front door of the Rental Unit subject to the Late Fee.

(iii) A signed and dated affidavit by the delivery person certifying delivery to the to the Renter of the notice on the date delivered.

Violations of this section of the St. Petersburg City Code shall be punishable by a fine of $300 for a first offense, and $500 for each subsequent offense.

            SECTION TWO. The provisions of this ordinance shall be deemed to be severable. If any provision of this ordinance is deemed unconstitutional or otherwise invalid, such determination shall not affect the validity of any other provision of this ordinance.

            SECTION THREE.  In the event this ordinance is not vetoed by the Mayor in accordance with the City Charter, it shall become effective on February 8, 2020.  In the event this ordinance is vetoed by the Mayor in accordance with the City Charter, it shall not become effective unless and until the City Council overrides the veto in accordance with the City Charter, in which case it shall become effective ninety (90) days after the day on which a successful vote to override the veto is taken.