A proposed order could give tenants more time to prepare for the large rent hikes that have become commonplace in St. Petersburg.
At Thursday’s Housing, Land Use and Transportation Committee meeting, City Council Speaker Gina Driscoll said she called for this new commercial element as part of an ongoing effort. aimed at creating a better environment for the city’s tenants. She also hopes to strengthen relationships between tenants and landlords in an area that has seen rent prices rise 25-35% in the past year.
The city does not currently require notice of rental price increases outside of contractual stipulations.
Using the ordinances recently passed in Tampa and Miami as a model, Assistant City Attorney Brad Tennant led a discussion on what a mandatory price increase notice might look like in St. Petersburg.
“I want to invite everyone to see this as a foundation, a starting point,” Driscoll said. “And we can make adjustments based on our discussion today and hopefully move forward with a good order that will provide better protections for our residents who are renting…”
Tennant explained that the proposed ordinance would require landlords to notify residents of any price increases greater than 5%. An annual lease would require 60 days notice, 30 days for a quarterly contract and month-to-month tenants would receive 21 days notice.
The landlord must provide the notice in writing – either by post or in the form of a letter attached to the door of the property – unless other means of communication have been agreed in the lease, such as email verifiable.
If a tenant does not receive the stipulated notice, they could file a complaint with the city. Tennant said the code and compliance department would enforce the order.
Council member Richie Floyd said several community members and organizations would like to see a 180-day warning in the event of a significant increase in annual lease prices. He also noted the reluctance of some officials to extend the notice period due to potential litigation and the inability of landlords to predict market rate increases that far in advance.
“Cost inflation is not expected to exceed 5% in 180 days,” Floyd said, using the national rate of 9.1% year on year as an example.
Tennant explained that the 60-day threshold aligns with ordinances in other cities and state statutes, and that the established precedent provides St. Pete with a collateral benefit should he end up in front of a judge.
However, Tennant said that according to the Homeless Leadership Alliance, it takes an average of 69 days for a resident to find a new home in Pinellas County. The process takes even longer for those with housing vouchers, with an average of 105 days.
“What we did was we wrote something as conservative as possible,” Tennant said. “And by conservative, I mean as risk averse as possible – something that we think is as bulletproof as possible.”
Driscoll clarified that the order does not give the landlord the right to raise prices outside of a rental agreement if he provides the required notice.
Council member Brandi Gabbard said she hoped to strike a balance between landlords and tenants and was concerned that imposing 180 days’ notice of rent increase would place an unfair burden on ‘moms and pops’. who own one or two rental houses.
While unsure of the statistics in St. Petersburg, Gabbard said that nationally, 40% of rental inventory falls into this category.
“What ends up happening is either they terminate and move on to another tenant, so now we have a worse problem for our tenants, or they sell these properties,” Gabbard said. “And because these properties are so valuable in today’s market, they either go to people who actually want to buy them and live in them – so they come out of rental inventory – or these companies buy them out.
“I don’t want us to kind of feed that part of the market.”
If passed, the city will provide an education period for homeowners before it goes into effect. Every non-family residential property in St. Petersburg would also receive a notice informing them of a change.
Floyd proposed that the order require 180 days’ notice for price increases for annual leases, although she won no support from her colleagues. Driscoll said extending the tenure to six months could cause owners to forgo the longer term in favor of a monthly deal, which would only require 21 days.
Floyd said the landlords are holding the city hostage, and “if we’re just going to keep pushing people out of town, then I think we have bigger problems than can be solved by this order.”
“I’m here interested in talking about people who need a roof over their heads.”
The committee approved the draft order requiring 60 days notice for annual price increases over 5% and 21 days for monthly rentals. James Corbett, the town’s development administrator, said he would need about 60 days to conduct community outreach before presenting the proposed ordinance to the city council.
Driscoll said she would like to see an effective date of 60 days after approval.
Corbett also noted that the city is hiring a staff member to focus solely on tenant rights issues and eviction diversion. He said interviews are taking place this week and the city is looking to fill the position “at very short notice.”