Office of Tenant Services Bridges Gap Between Tenants and Landlords
With so many regulations, codes and ordinances to consider, the relationship between tenants and landlords can be a complicated one, which is why the Orange County Office of Tenant Services was created – to address issues of landlord and tenant rights and bridge the gap between them.
For citizens located within unincorporated Orange County, Tenant Services focuses on outreach and education by providing information related to renting. It ensures residents know what their rights are under Florida law, investigates complaints, and enforces ordinances. Additionally, it provides referrals for Orange County Code Enforcement, other Orange County departments, Legal Aid Society of the Orange County Bar Association, nonprofit organizations and additional community stakeholders.
“We provide actionable information to the Mayor and the Board of County Commissioners so they can address issues,” explained Amy R. Michaels, Tenant Services Administrator, Office of Tenant Services. “We also develop partnerships with other agencies so we can share accurate information with tenants and landlords. We meet with both sides, which is important.”
Michaels also tracks common issues, questions and concerns from the community and subsequently creates seminars and trainings so people can protect themselves. For example, one of the most frequently asked questions Tenant Services receives is, “I didn’t pay my rent and my landlord is evicting me. How can I stop my eviction?” Unfortunately, Michaels confirms, not much can be done about that. A tenant signs an agreement and has to pay the rent. If they do not, there are consequences.
“In the case of eviction, we tell tenants not to wait until the last minute to contact us,” she said. “If you know next month you’re going to have problems paying your rent, call us right away. Head off the problem before it gets out of hand. We can refer you to rental assistance programs, but it can take several weeks to process those requests.”
Michaels explains to tenants that landlords are not out to get them, and that renting is a business for them, so when property taxes and insurance rates increase, that cost is passed on to the consumer. “It’s a business, so we can’t tell landlords how to run their business,” asserted Michaels. “This is a big issue right now because insurance companies are leaving the state due to recent hurricanes, which is leaving landlords with fewer options.”
Out of everything she does, the most gratifying part of Michaels’ job is providing information to residents so they can make informed decisions. “People don’t understand ordinances because there’s a lot of legal terms in them, and I like being able to clarify things. I also love creating partnerships and forging relationships. I meet people with different perspectives, and I learn from those different perspectives.”