Article via The Gainesville Guardian
Published July 31, 2019
An organization created an opportunity for residents to learn more about their rights as tenants in Alachua County.
The Black Hats Collective of Alachua County hosted a forum titled “Get your rights as a tenant” at the Library Partnership Branch located on 912 NE 16th Ave. on Saturday.
The purpose of the forum was to inform residents in underprivileged communities about their housing rights.
“Our primary mission is to address problems in the community economically, educationally, socially, and culturally,” said Jack Carter, member of TBHC and the host of the tenants’ rights forum. “There’s a lot of problems with the landlord and tenant issue. We create forums like this to educate the public.”
Reina Saco, Esq. of Florida Legal Services was the presenter during the forum.
She addressed the rights and protocols of Florida’s landlord/tenant law as well as answering questions the audience may have.
“You empower people to empower themselves,” Saco said regarding the forum.
Saco has been the Equal Justice Work Fellow for Florida Legal Services for two years and heer focus is housing advocacy.
“Housing affects everyone,” Saco said. “Every area has niche issues.”
She said in Alachua County security deposit is the main issue she sees tenants go through.
Her advice for residents is to take pictures before they get settled in their property to have proof on how it looked.
“Take pictures and don’t be afraid to ask Florida legal Services for help,” Saco said.
The forum also discussed Alachua County’s rules against housing discrimination.
Earlier this year, the county expanded its anti-discrimination policy on housing which now includes family status, veterans, domestic violence survivors and people with different citizenship statuses.
The changes come from the Alachua County Commission’s past discussions on how to curb homelessness and boost access to affordable housing.
The county already prohibited discrimination based on race, color, national origin, religion, sex, marital status, familial status, age, disability, sexual orientation, or gender identity or expression.
Other advice that was mentioned in the forum was the use of indigent forms if a tenant is filing a lawsuit.
An indigent form is when the courts waive the fees or ask the state to pay the normal court costs for people who earn $50,000 or less annually.
The form tells the court the person cannot afford the fees related to their case.
Saco also mentioned the loopholes that can exist in a lease if landlords are not specific enough.
She described that a lease is silent or it’s neutral if it does not specify what the landlord wants. An example she shared was animals.
“If I write a contract, I write everything that is important,” Saco said. “If I failed to include something, it wasn’t that important.”
She described the difference between an emotional support animal and a service animal.
Service animals are needed for a recognized disability and an emotional support animal is when a licensed medical professional signs off on a certificate that a tenant can have that animal with them.
Saco appreciated the enthusiasm from the audience.
“It was very engaging,” Saco said. “I got a good variety of questions.”
TBHC member and community activist Kali Blount believed the forum gave residents more confidence in applying their rights in the future.
“People need to know the right procedure to handle issues the right way,” Blount said. “They now know what they can do to enforce their rights. They’re more confident to know how to be treated right.”
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TBHC News is a media outlet informing the community about issues and achievements.