Tampa City Council votes for ordinance that could create tenant advocacy office, after outcry from residents

If approved, the ordinance could create an office in the city that helps tenants in need.

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click to enlarge Families showed up to Tampa City Council to demand a tenant advocacy office. - Justin Garcia
Justin Garcia
Families showed up to Tampa City Council to demand a tenant advocacy office.

Today, Tampa City Council voted unanimously to have city staff create an ordinance that could establish a tenant advocacy office. The vote came after outcry from several Tampa residents.

City staff was asked to come back to council on Aug. 4 with an ordinance that could establish the office. The ordinance would need approval from council, which will hear input from city staff on how the office would work.

Councilman Guido Maniscalco made the motion to bring the ordinance before council.

City council suggested $400,000 be allocated for the office, which could potentially house two full-time employees to run the office.

"We've heard from the public and they have asked for something like this," Maniscalco said. "You know, we have everything here as Miami-Dade has done it. I know we have a tenant's Bill of Rights, we can include that in here."

In Miami-Dade County, which is the model that Tampa City Council is following, the office acts as a conduit that directs tenants to resources which help them deal with evictions, landlord retaliation and discrimination.

Miami's office launched in March and helps to hold landlords accountable to the Tenants Bill of Rights in the county, which defines rights for renters and says that they must have safe living conditions. Miami's Tenant's Bill of Rights prevents landlords from retaliating against a tenant for standing up for their rights by raising rent and other forms of retaliation.

Tampa's own Tenant's Bill of Rights—which was enacted in March—also prohibits discrimination by a landlord toward tenants who use public assistance for housing.

Tampa's tenant advocacy office could break from the Miami model by removing the office's responsibility to work on affordable housing options. City council members noted that affordable housing solutions are already being addresses across several City of Tampa departments.

Leading up to council's decision, several Tampa residents once again appealed to council to create the office. Many of the same residents have shown up for the past several months, first demanding rent control or stabilization. When council shot that down, residents pushed for other reforms like the tenant advocacy office.
The speakers were of all races and backgrounds, from the older generations to young people like Aaliyah Coleman, who addressed city council in a heartfelt plea.

"Working here in downtown in this specific area, and I don't know if you guys don't see them, but I've seen people plenty of people who are on the streets without housing, without food to eat and digging into trash cans and it's quite sad to see," said Coleman. "I don't understand how you guys can stand to see it every day."
click to enlarge Several Tampa residents spoke in favor of creating a tenant advocacy office at today's Tampa City Council meeting. - Justin Garcia
Justin Garcia
Several Tampa residents spoke in favor of creating a tenant advocacy office at today's Tampa City Council meeting.

Elderly people on fixed incomes also spoke about how they keep getting their rents raised, with some receiving as little as three-day notice.

All of the council members supported the motion to establish the Tenant Advocacy Office after hearing the people speak, with debate on how it will work exactly, and a desire to make sure that the office is effective in how it assists tenants.

"My expectation for this office would be to help people try to find the place they need to go before they run out of time," councilwoman Lynn Hurtak said. "Do we need to do more? Absolutely."

Hurtak continued that for now, this office could be, "...an area that a space that a renter can go to see what their actual solutions could be."
City Attorney Morris Massey—sitting in for longtime City Council Attorney Martin Shelby while he is on leave—said that city staff should be there to discuss the details on Aug. 4 to discuss the potential ordinance.

"I mean, we can certainly work on a draft ordinance, but the staffing and the budget for that, it's going to take some cooperation with the administration," Massey said. After Massey's input, council invited staff to be there in August to discuss the issue.

Councilman Bill Carlson encouraged the community to get involved to make sure that the cooperation from the administration does happen.

"To the folks in the audience, we need your help with the other agencies like the mayor's office, the housing authority, the state and federal government," Carlson said, referring to rules that limit council's power to address the housing crisis. "We need your help making sure the administration comes with an ordinance we can pass and with the money to approve this, because the two forms of government have to work together."

Also discussed at the meeting was a potential landlord registry that could make it easier for tenants to report issues with landlords; city staff said it would be back on July 14 to discuss that issue. 

About The Author

Justin Garcia

Justin Garcia has written for The Nation, Investigative Reporters & Editors Journal, the USA Today Network 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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