In August, evictions in Hillsborough County were higher than at any point during the COVID-19 pandemic.
According to numbers from the Hillsborough Clerk of Court, 761 writs of possession were given to tenants by the Hillsborough County Sheriff’s Office. The writ is the final step in the eviction process, when law enforcement forces tenants from their homes.
That’s 194 more evictions than July. October of 2020 was the last time evictions got anywhere near that number. In that month, 668 writs were issued.
Also in August, 1,288 residential evictions were filed in Hillsborough County court—this number is also staggeringly high compared to recent years. It’s 193 more than the evictions filed in July, and 448 more evictions than were filed in May.
As of the 18th of this month, 604 evictions were filed and 304 writs of possession were delivered.
Those filed evictions could take weeks or months to make it to the writ of possession stage, which could mean more surges in evictions in the coming months.
Hillsborough County Commissioner Kimberly Overman told Creative Loafing Tampa Bay that the situation is “heart wrenching.”
Overman said that the county has taken measures to mitigate the rental crisis, but as long as landlords keep increasing rents, it’s going to be harder for people to remain in stable housing.
“It’s like standing on train tracks, watching the train head toward you,” she said.
The commissioner pointed out that she and other commissioners have worked on protections for renters. The county passed the Tenants Bill of Rights back in 2021, and the county has recently modified the bill to include additional rights for renters.
During a Aug. 3 meeting, the county passed an ordinance that requires landlords to give at least a 60-day notice for rent and other fee increases that are higher than 5% for long-term leases. Landlords will also have to give a 60-day notice before terminating long-term leases.
The ordinance will also require landlords to give month-to-month renters a 30-day notice. Previously, landlords only had to give a 15-day notice.
Overman also pointed to eviction mitigation programs in the area, and rental assistance programs from the county and the City of Tampa. But she said that oftentimes tenants just leave before making sure everything that is happening is legal, out of fear of having an eviction on their record.
Although there are programs to help renters now, Overman wondered what will happen if the housing crisis continues.
“I'm trying to discern, when do we call a housing emergency? And with these kinds of numbers, well, I don't think we're far from it,” Overman said.
Robin Lockett, Regional Director of Florida Rising, told CL that the accelerating rental crisis means that “the chickens have come home to roost.”
Lockett believes this increase in evictions in Hillsborough is just a small view of what is coming. She and other activist groups have called for rent control in Tampa to address the housing crisis, but landlords and city staff have talked city council out of putting the measure on a November ballot.
“I really hope they have the courage to put it on the March ballot, because protection from landlords gouging rent will be needed for years to come,” Lockett said.
She gave city council credit for pushing for more rental assistance funds, passing a Tenant’s Bill of Rights much like the county’s, and for creating a housing information line that connects people with housing services.
However, she said that more needs to be done, because rental assistance funds are going directly to landlords who are increasing rents, and the funds won’t last forever.
“It’s not stopping the landlords from raising rents at an unreasonable amount,” Lockett said.
In Orange County, rent control was approved to be placed on the ballot, for voters to decide on. A lawsuit attempted to stop the vote, but failed. As of now, voters will have the chance to weigh in on the measure in November.
Lockett said that if rent control in Orange County succeeds, it could be “used as a template” for enacting the measure elsewhere in Florida.
In Pinellas County, which has around 500,000 less people than Hillsborough, 317 writs of possession were issued in August. The writs issued have stayed mainly in the 200s and 300s in recent years.