Jack Maynard and Doug Hazelman own four rental properties within Gulfport ranging from $800-1,250, but rentals at those prices have grown scarce as of late.
Jack Maynard

Gulfport will likely follow the guidelines in the “tenant’s bill of rights” passed for Pinellas County in early August by the Board of County Commissioners.

City Manager Jim O’Reilly advised the City Council at its Aug. 16 regular meeting to simply let the County ordinance cover the City and not try to do anything on its own.

“It’s pretty detailed,” said O’Reilly of the County ordinance. “My personal recommendation to the council would be to follow this ordinance and not try to opt out or write your own ordinance. If you were to not take any action, you would be covered by this.”

Under this arrangement, anyone calling the City regarding an issue with a landlord would be referred to Pinellas County’s Code Enforcement Division, O’Reilly said.

His comments on the ordinance, of which he distributed a copy to every council member, came on the heels of the Council meeting’s public comment phase, during which all six of the citizen speakers addressed the issue of housing.

In its opening paragraphs, the ordinance notes that residential real estate rates in Pinellas County have increased 30% since 2020, and that “protecting residential tenants from discrimination and unfair and illegal rental practices is fundamental to the health, safety, and welfare of the community.”

The ordinance stipulates that a landlord cannot refuse to rent, show, or lease a property because of a tenant’s lawful source of income or status with regard to a public assistance program. It also prohibits a landlord from assessing a late fee without providing a detailed written notice.

If a landlord wants to raise rent more than 5% on a one-year lease, a tenant must receive 60 days notice of the increase. Any such rent hike on a term of more than three months requires 30 days notice.

O’Reilly told the council that no other municipalities had taken any action related to this ordinance as of the Aug. 16 meeting.

“From what I’ve read it’s pretty encompassing about notification of increased rents, what they can do and can’t do,” he said of the ordinance. “You can’t have these astronomical increases without notification. A lot of notification creates a line of communication between the tenant and the landlord.”

Council will continue to explore what can be done to alleviate a housing situation that’s caused many (former) residents to get priced out of Gulfport. O’Reilly confirmed what one citizen said during public comment time, which is that Gulfport’s population has actually decreased from the 2010 to 2020 census.

“We’ve seen the loss of $100,000 in revenue from the population drop,” he said. “We’ve gone from 12,222 in 2010 to 11,773 in the 2020 census, which then triggers issues with state revenue sharing and sales tax, because there is a formula that they disperse it on. As your population shrinks, you get less of a piece of the pie.”

Councilmember Paul Ray’s upcoming town hall meeting, scheduled for Oct. 12, will cover housing costs in general, but also focus on short-term rentals, which he said is what is behind all of this.

“We didn’t just get rid of their houses [those who have moved out of the City]. Those houses became corporate-owned,” he said.

Ray mentioned social media posts in which people were looking for safe places to park and sleep in their cars because they had nowhere else to go.

Vice Mayor Christine Brown cited a newspaper article she read the weekend before the meeting about a woman who works with homeless people in Pinellas County but has now become homeless herself because her rent increased $800 per month.

“She’s living in her car. She’s got a job but she just can’t afford to live,” said Brown, who added that she is a landlord herself but has never raised the rent on her tenant, who lives on a fixed income. “We can’t tell people what to rent for. We just hope that people would have compassion. You can’t legislate what someone can get for their property. If they’re getting it, they’re getting it. It is very sad.”

Ray suggested having a council workshop, and it will likely take place after he and Councilmember April Thanos host separate town hall meetings. O’Reilly suggested splitting the discussion between rent stabilization and short-term rentals.

Mayor Sam Henderson agreed with continuing the discussion but cautioned against anyone expecting a quick and easy fix.

“The county put this [ordinance] forward and we don’t have to do anything to fall under this umbrella,” he said. “But if we take steps on our own and all of a sudden find ourselves getting sued because we’ve infringed on people’s rights to profit off their property and overreached in the eyes of the law — I just want people to know there are a lot of reasons why there might not be a viable solution.”

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