Tampa announces plans to collaborate with Bay Area Legal Services to represent renters in need

The details of the potential agreement are still being worked out, the city says.

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Tampa city skyline

Today, the City of Tampa announced plans to work with Bay Area Legal Services (BALS), which could potentially help renters looking for legal services.

Nicole Travis, Administrator of Development and Economic Opportunity, presented the proposed pilot program with BALS to city council.

"One of the complaints you've heard through public comment in the recent weeks was access to legal service," Travis told council. "And so while everyone has the right to legal counsel, the ask is really for the city to pay for that."

The news comes two months after local activists first called for legal representation for tenants.

Travis said that the city attorney's office cannot represent a private person, so the city attorneys are working with BALS to create the pilot program for renters. She said that the partnership could be especially helpful in assisting renters who have complaints about their landlords.

Applicants for the legal services would require a screening to make sure that they meet requirements to obtain free services. Travis said she will be reporting back to council on the agreement with BALS once it is finalized.

Travis included that the city's tenant services team is now being funded by the city to the point where it can now hire the temporary staff it needs to take the high volume of calls it is receiving in regards to housing issues.

According to the city's numbers, 44% of the calls the housing team has received are in regards to tenants needing rental assistance.

City council had originally planned to vote on an ordinance to create established guidelines for a tenant advocacy office. But Travis recommended that the city instead let the housing team operate independent of an ordinance, so it has flexibility in how many people the city can hire, depending on demand.

Councilwoman Hurtak made a motion to have Travis report back every two months on the status of the program, which was approved unanimously by the rest of council.

Tampa's tenant services team can be reached via the city's housing information hotline at 813-307-5555.

BALS has not yet responded to a request for comment on the potential partnership.

About The Author

Justin Garcia

Justin Garcia previously wrote for the USA Today Network, The Economic Hardship Reporting Project, Scalawag Magazine, and various other news outlets. When he's not writing, Justin likes to make music, read, play basketball and spend time with loved ones. 

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