Tampa Police contacted landlords to encourage evictions of tenants who had been arrested: Times investigation

Tampa Police Chief logo
Tampa Police Chief logo. By Seán Kinane / WMNF News (8 July 2016).

In a number of cases, the Tampa Police Department appears to have contacted landlords to encourage evictions of tenants who had been arrested or stopped by police.

In a major new investigation, the Tampa Bay Times found that police contacted landlords at more than 100 apartment communities since 2013.

Police reported crimes by tenants to landlords

Tenants have been reported to their landlords for involvement in any criminal activity, even for minor offenses like driving with a suspended license. The Tampa Police Department took this increasingly active role due to the city’s Crime-Free Multi Housing Program. Police have marketed the program to Tampa landlords as a way to keep criminal activity off their properties, improve the quality of life for law-abiding tenants and increase property value.

Program partners receive the police department’s crime-free addendum to include in tenant leasing contracts. Similar clauses are common in lease contracts, but most are not enforced through a data-sharing agreement with police. Officers acknowledged that landlord participation in the program is completely voluntary, by invitation only, a practice that is said to now be discontinued.

Role of income and race

The biggest landlord amongst the program’s partners was The Tampa Housing Authority, providing homes to some of the city’s lowest-income families. It alone received about one-quarter of notices encouraging evictions.

The Times found of the 100 apartment complexes enrolled in the program, three-quarters of them were in neighborhoods where U.S. Census data confirms is made up of mostly Black and Hispanic residents.

Black tenants were most heavily impacted by the program. Police records show of the 1,100 people reported to landlords about 90% of them were Black. Various national experts told the Times that the city’s program goes against federal guidelines and is likely to violate the Fair Housing Act.

Similar programs elsewhere

Programs similar to Tampa’s Crime-Free Multi Housing exist in over 2,000 U.S. cities, some of which are in current legal battles with the ACLU. The Tampa Police department’s director of public safety, Bill Jackson, isn’t worried. He told the Times that he and his agency support the program, and weren’t concerned over the evictions.

Mayor Jane Castor, who first initiated the program during her time as police chief, remains in support of its efforts as well. She claims it has been an effective tool in reducing crime rates in neighborhoods that typically have been hard to police.

Changes to the program

In 2018, after five years of operation, the department launched its first review of the program. After this and inquiries from Tampa Bay Times requesting copies of landlord letters, officers seemed to take a softer approach enforcing the program.

Today the police department’s Crime-Free Multi Housing program is still operating in Tampa, but has undergone some changes. Since the program’s review, the number of monthly reported tenants has dropped from an average of 14 to an average of about four. Police have softened the language used on the arrest notices instructing landlords to take action. They also now send clarification memo explaining to landlords an arrest is not full proof that the individual has committed the charged crime.

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