Housing Update Series: Fair Housing & Discrimination

By:  Anne Bailey, Stetson Law Volunteer

This blog post is an installment in a series of housing updates applicable to both landlords and tenants. It provides an overview of the expanded reach of protected classes from the Tenant Bill of Rights (Ch. 20, Art. VII of St. Petersburg’s City Code) (effective February 8, 2020) and Ordinance No. 501-H (effective December 16, 2021).

Why the Tenant Bill of Rights & Ordinance 501-H?

As a preface to the Tenant Bill of Rights, the City Council found that:

1. Housing is an essential component of individual and community well-being.

2. Rental units are an important part of the City’s available housing stock and renting continues to grow in popularity among City residents.

3. Protecting renters from eviction, discrimination, and unreasonable late fees is important to the City’s social, economic, and environmental well-being. (Ch. 20, Art. VII, Sec. 20-302 of St. Petersburg’s City

In addition, as a preface to Ordinance 501-H, the City Council found that:

1. Renters’ source of income is not explicitly protected under the Fair Housing Act, which can lead to landlords denying Rental Units to Renters who utilize government assistance.

2. When Landlords refuse to lease to Renters with government assistance, it diminishes the limited stock of Rental Units to such Renters, exacerbating the difficulty for those Renters to locate housing. (Sec. 20-330(a))

Who Is Protected Against Discrimination?

When it comes to the sale or rental of housing, the Florida Statutes provide statewide protections against discrimination based on:

• Race,
• Color,
• National origin,
• Sex,
• Disability,
• Familial status, or
• Religion. (Fla. Stat. Sec. 760.23(1))

Now, the Tenant Bill of Rights – exclusive to the rental of housing in St. Petersburg – has expanded the definition of classes protected against discrimination to include:

• Age,
• Marital status,
• Sexual orientation,
• Pregnancy,
• Gender identity or expression, and
• Veteran or service member status. (Sec. 20-303)

In addition, Ordinance No. 501-H makes it unlawful for landlords to discriminate against tenants’ source of income. The “source of income” is defined as how a renter acquires money to pay their rent and the method by which it is paid to the landlord. This includes income from government-mandated programs such as:

• Housing choice vouchers,
• Veteran’s benefits,
• Social security, and
• Others that are not of a limited and defined duration of less than 1 year. (Ordinance No. 501-H)

Landlords: What Acts are Discriminatory?

The scope of the new fair housing updates is broad as it covers discriminatory acts across the many stages of the rental process. Such discriminatory acts are:

1. To refuse to rent after the making of a bona fide offer, to refuse to negotiate for the rental of, or otherwise to make unavailable or deny, a rental unit to any person because of a discriminatory classification.

2. To discriminate against any person in the terms, conditions, or privilegesof the rental of a rental unit, or in the provision of services or facilities in connection therewith, because of a discriminatory classification.

3. To represent to any person because of a discriminatory classification that any dwelling is not available for inspection or rental when such rental unit is in fact so available.

4. To make, print, or publish, or cause to be made, printed, or published, any notice, statement, or advertisement with respect to the rental of a rental unit that indicates any preference, limitation, or discrimination based on a discriminatory classification, or an intention to make any such preference, limitation, or discrimination.

5. To induce or attempt to induce, for profit, any person to rent any rental unit by a representation regarding the entry or prospective entry into the neighborhood of a person or persons distinguished by a discriminatory classification. (Tenant Bill of Rights, Sec. 20-310(b); Ordinance No. 501-H, Sec. 20-330(d))

Please note that violations of these fair housing updates regarding discrimination are punishable by a fine of $500 for a first offense and any subsequent offenses.

Renters: How Do I File a Discrimination Claim?

The two new fair housing updates do not create a private cause of action, which means that only the city can enforce these sections of the City Code.

With its dedicated staff, Community Law Program may nonetheless be able to assist renters residing in St. Petersburg who believe their rights under these fair housing updates have been violated. However, please note that the complaint must ultimately be submitted by the renter, and such complaints are public records.

For help, contact us at (727) 582-7480.