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More and more people are finding themselves living paycheck to paycheck in the greater Tampa Bay region. In some places, rent has doubled. The cost of everyday goods — like gas and groceries — keeps creeping up. All the while, wages lag behind and the affordable housing crisis looms. Amid cost-of-living increases, WUSF is focused on documenting how people are making ends meet.

Florida bills awaiting approval would repeal local tenant laws and allow monthly fees for renters

A "For Rent" sign is staked in the front yard of a yellow home managed by Calebro & Associates, LLC. After calling the number on the sign, Burke spoke with the legitimate owner and realtor, Bert Calebro.
Gabriella Paul
/
WUSF Public Media
A "For Rent" sign is staked in the front yard of a yellow home managed by Calebro & Associates, LLC.

Community organizers are worried the two housing bills — HB 1417 and HB 133— will harm renters.

Two Florida bills awaiting signatures from Gov. Ron DeSantis would repeal local tenant laws (HB 1417) and introduce an alternative payment method to security deposits (HB 133).

Community organizers in the City of St. Petersburg fear the impending housing laws will undercut protections for renters and put more power in the hands of landlords.

St. Petersburg resident Jameka Williams said this feeling is compounded by the recentpassage of SB102, which included a provision to block rent control ordinances by local governments.

“I believe it’s a double blow,” she said. “It’s kind of making people in our base hesitant to keep up this fight because [it] feels like everything that we’ve asked for is being cut down by this legislation.”

Bill to repeal local tenant laws 

The bill, dubbed “Residential Tenancies”, would preempt local regulations surrounding tenant-landlord relationships, including several protections enacted by governing bodies in Hillsborough and Pinellas counties.

If enacted, the local tenant laws that would fall under this provision include the screening process used by a landlord in approving tenancies, security deposits, terms and conditions of rental agreements, associated fees and notice requirements during the eviction process, according to HB 1417.

An estimated 46 ordinances across 35 cities in Florida would be threatened by the new law, according to an estimate by Orlando Weekly.

Nick Carey, with the Pinellas County chapter of Faith in Florida, said among the local protections on the chopping block would be a ban against “source of income discrimination”adopted by the City of St. Petersburg in April. This was an amendment to the city’s “Tenant Bill of Rights,” a measure that’s also been separately adopted by Pinellasand Hillsborough counties.

"It's a hard blow, honestly,” he said.

Carey said people in St. Pete who qualify for housing vouchers could have a harder time finding a place to rent once the city’s tenant protections are rolled back.

“You know, some of members of our base in the community have been on a waitlist for two years to get a voucher, and you get a voucher, and you think: I can go use this. I'm actually going to have some form of assistance — and landlord after landlord will turn it down."

The Florida Apartment Association, which lobbied in favor of the bill, argues that the legislation standardizes statewide rental housing guidelines that had quickly become “a patchwork of inconsistent policies from one jurisdiction to the next,” according to FAA spokesperson Amanda White.

“The Florida Apartment Association supported the passage of HB 1417 because it provides much needed consistency by clarifying that Chapter 83 governs the regulation of the landlord/tenant relationship, as it was always intended to. This regulatory consistency will ensure housing providers and renters alike know their specific rights, protections, and responsibilities under the law, regardless of what city or county they are in,” White said in a written statement.

Since state tenant laws will soon supersede local tenant laws, if HB 1417 is signed into law, some tenant advocacy groups are shifting their attention toward the statehouse.

Karla Correa, with the St. Pete Tenants Union, said that the local group has plans to start mobilizing with the Miami Workers Center and the Community Justice Project at the state level.

“People are hurting … and that’s making more and more tenants active,” she said.

Bill to allow monthly tenant fees 

Landlords in Florida could also start charging a non-refundable monthly fee instead of a security deposit that's paid up-front, according to HB 133.

Supporters of the bill, which is named “Fees in Lieu of Security Deposits,” argue that an alternative payment method to a security deposit will make it easier for renters who can't afford a pricey down payment.

But opponents, like Nick Carey in St. Petersburg, caution that the bill is not what it appears to be.

“I think it's another way for landlords to make money. And it's disguised as a way to help tenants,” he said.

Carey added that there is no limit to the amount a landlord can charge in monthly fees. And unlike security deposits, which can be returned to renters when they move out, the monthly fees are non-refundable.

With the right oversight, he said this legislation could be a tool to lower the barrier to entry for renters.

“I'm hopeful that some of our smaller and local landlords will use this as a bridge – in a helpful way,” he said. “But some of these big corporate entities that own most of the housing are really just going to see it as another fee that they can tack on and end up getting more money than they would have from a security deposit and application fees.”

The new law, if enacted, gives landlords the sole option to “provide a tenant the option of paying a security deposit in monthly installments,” according to a fee schedule agreed upon by both parties. According to the bill text, monthly fees cannot be required by the landlord.

Renters also hold the right to terminate a monthly fee agreement at any time as long as they then retroactively pay the amount of the security deposit detailed in the rental agreement.

Gabriella Paul covers the stories of people living paycheck to paycheck in the greater Tampa Bay region for WUSF. She's also a Report for America corps member. Here’s how you can share your story with her.

I tell stories about living paycheck to paycheck for public radio at WUSF News. I’m also a corps member of Report For America, a national service program that places journalists in local newsrooms.