Tenant’s rights addressed

The Leon County Division of Housing Services and the Neighborhood Justice Center held a forum Monday in the Community Room of Amtrak Station in an effort to address the rights and responsibilities of landlords and tenants.

As part of the National Fair Housing Month, the forum included guest speakers who gave brief overviews of rights granted by the Fair Housing Act. Under the Federal Fair Housing Act, the City of Tallahassee Ordinance and the Leon County Ordinance, it is illegal to consider race, color, national origin, religion, sex, familial status, or disability in housing decisions.

These factors or “protected classes” are secured under the housing act. Denied housing because of one of these classes result in housing discrimination.

“About nine out of 10 people are discriminated against and don’t even know it,” said Cynthia Burch, executive director of the Big Bend Fair Housing Center Inc. “I’ve investigated over 300 complaints and have seen all of the gamuts. Housing discrimination happens, its just real subtle.”

According to Burch, there are three forms of housing discrimination. Overt discrimination occurs when a landlord verbally tells a potential tenant he or she cannot rent because of age, race or the like. Despair treatment discrimination occurs when a potential tenant is denied housing on various terms and conditions and is treated differently because of those terms.

Discriminatory impact, the most common form, occurs when landlords use policies and laws to advertently discriminate against potential tenants.

“There are rights and responsibilities that are set out for landlords and tenants,” said Alice Vickers, a representative of the Legal Services of N.

Florida. “There are rights that tenants have that cannot be taken away. The purpose of this forum is to inform you of them.”

Vickers suggested that tenants and landlords look up Chapter 83 of the Florida Statutes. Tenants can find information that sets out the obligations of the landlord to the tenant, and vice versa.

Burch agreed that students especially should look into the tenant-landlord laws.

“Contact and learn more about the landlord-tenant laws,” Burch said. “Education is key and it is important not to sign anything until you are aware of your rights and responsibilities as a tenant.”

Despite a turnout of about 35 people, Jeanne Freeman, Leon County Division of Housing Services intern, wished more students would have been present.

“It is important that you are aware of your rights,” the 23-year-old FSU urban regional planning graduate student from Ft. Lauderdale said. “So many students are renting now and discrimination is subtle, so it’s important to look out for things,” she said.

“If you are unsure about something, and have any questions, call us,” Freeman said. “We will be sure to steer you in the right direction.”

DeAnna L. Carpenter can be reached at deannalynette@hotmail.com