A hot topic in the Tampa Bay area property management world right now is Hillsborough Counties’ newly passed Tenant Bill of Rights. This bill was drafted and ultimately passed to address what many believe is a growing problem of lack of affordable housing in Hillsborough County, and even discrimination against people of certain demographic backgrounds when it comes to housing options. The bill contains many new regulations, but one stands out: landlords can no longer refuse to accept Section 8 housing vouchers, nor can they deny a tenant based on their income source at all. While the bill is likely necessary, many landlords are concerned about the administrative burden such a bill creates on them as well as the potential risk they incur by renting to tenants whose income sources may not be reliable.
Profit margins with rental income can be slim, and the more administrative red tape a landlord has to deal with, the smaller that profit becomes. Will this lead to less inventory on the market, having the exact opposite of the bill’s intended effect, or will the inventory remain and simply become available for all qualified tenants no matter their income source?
The Problem: Lack of Affordable Housing in Tampa
In general, Tampa lacks sufficient affordable housing. According to FloridaTrend.com, we have ~121,000 low-income households which are also “cost-burdened” - meaning their rent and utilities costs take more than 40% of their income each month. To qualify as “low income”, the household must make 60% or less of the area median income, which is $58,884. This means households making less than $35,330 are considered low-income, and to be considered cost-burdened, they’re rent is taking ~$14,200 of that income per year. When you consider our tax rate of 7.3%, those households are left with $18,551 for the entire year (or about $1545/month) to cover all other expenses including car payments, insurance, cell phones, internet, other types of transportation, clothing for their children, childcare, etc. With all this considered, it’s clear why housing vouchers such as Section 8 are necessary for this group to survive in Tampa. This low-income, cost-burdened population is growing every year, but the amount of affordable housing options aren’t growing at the same rate.
What is Section 8?
The housing choice voucher program is the federal government's major program for assisting very low-income families, the elderly, and the disabled to afford decent, safe, and sanitary housing in the private market. The participant is free to choose any housing that meets the requirements of the program and is not limited to units located in subsidized housing projects.
Once accepted into the program and housing is selected, a housing subsidy is paid to the landlord directly by a public housing agency (PHA) local to Tampa. If there is a monetary difference between the subsidy amount and the monthly rent, the family is responsible for paying it. That discrepancy is a top concern of landlords all over Hillsborough County right now with the passing of this new bill: what if the tenant can’t afford the discrepancy?
Some landlords love Section 8 for the following reasons:
- They’re paid on time every month from the federal government
- There is usually never a lack of tenants once you start accepting Section 8 (free advertising!)
- Tenants usually stay in the home a long time and there are fewer evictions
- Tenants are pre-screened by the federal government (including drug tests and criminal background checks)
On the other hand, Section 8 makes some landlords leery for other reasons, including:
- HUD does not pay security deposits, and tenants who are already strapped for cash may not be able to
- Annual property inspections are a requirement of the program
- Participating in the program requires a lot of paperwork up front and on an ongoing basis
- Payment is not made until the tenant moves in, which is seen as risky
- There are regulations on the pricing of your rental as a program participant, and you may not fetch as high of a price for your rental.
As a professional property management company, we do not have a formal opinion on Section 8, but in general, our clients who are landlords do not favor it. As they see it: why would I take on additional paperwork, annual inspections, and risk in a competitive rental market like Tampa, when my rental is likely to be filled quickly and easily by tenants who can independently afford the rent? This lack of enthusiasm on the part of landlords about the Section 8 program in Tampa has led to a discrepancy between the number of low-income, cost-burdened households and affordable housing units in Hillsborough County. This is an unsustainable situation and affordable housing is a must in any metropolitan area, including Tampa Bay.
Source of Income Discrimination + Ambiguity in Ordinance #21-7
Ordinance #21-7 was adopted by the Hillsborough County Board of County Commissioners on March 3, 2021. Among other things, this subsection of the Tenant Bill of Rights speaks specifically to the Prohibition of Source of Income Anti-Discrimination. This means landlords cannot discriminate against any tenant regarding their source of income, as long as it is lawful. This means that if the tenant’s income comes from the following sources, the landlord must accept them as legitimate:
- A lawful occupation
- Government assistance (like Section 8)
- Vouchers and Veterans Affairs Supportive Housing (VASH)
- Social Security
- Supplemental Security Income
- Pension or other retirement benefits
- Trust Income
- Veterans benefits
The following are also considered lawful sources of income under Ordinance 21-7. These sources, while lawful, are not as dependable as the examples above, and represent where most landlords in Hillsborough County take issues with the Tenant Bill of Rights. A list of the less reliable source of income that must now be accepted are:
- Inheritances and Gifts
- Child support
- The sale of property
- Interest in property
- Investment income
While this second group represents all lawful sources of income, they are not as reliable as government assistance or a steady job. For example, if a potential tenant receives an inheritance, giving them a windfall of funds, this does not mean they are financially responsible. In fact, studies show ⅓ of recipients of an inheritance blow it in the United States. Gifts of money can stop flowing at any time. Alimony and child support coming through depend on the payer, not the payee or tenant, and the payer is not being vetted for renting the property.
While affordable housing is necessary for any metropolitan area like Tampa, this second set of income sources that must now be accepted go far beyond mandating that landlords accept Section 8 and other forms of government assistance. Is it truly fair to demand landlords accept these as income to qualify a tenant for a property they would otherwise not be able to afford? Is it really discriminatory for a landlord to not accept a financial windfall like an inheritance, which has a good chance of not being sustainable, as an income source on a rental application? Is rejecting this form of income the same as rejecting a Section 8 applicant who has qualified for reliable government assistance? Many think no - it’s not fair, and that this bill went far beyond preventing discrimination against low income groups.
Consult a Hillsborough County Property Management Expert
Prior to March 3, 2021, Hillsborough County landlords had discretion as to what types of income sources they would accept on a rental application for their privately-owned, non-public property. Now, accepting Section 8 and other lawful income sources is not optional, and landlords who don’t comply with the ordinance can be met with hefty fines and other penalties.
All landlords want tenants who can pay the rent - this is not revelatory or groundbreaking. Having been in property management for 15 years, we have yet to meet a landlord whose top concern about a tenant wasn’t their ability to pay the rent. If you’re a Hillsborough County based landlord and need help navigating this new bill, let us be your guide. Contact the Tampa property management experts at Vintage Real Estate today. We are also able to advise Tampa-area landlords on many other government housing authority regulations, including those of the Tampa Housing Authority, Clearwater Housing Authority, Pinellas County Housing Authority, and Veterans Affairs Housing Authority.