While allegations of discriminatory housing practices “cannot be ignored,” Florida’s Office of the Attorney General says they are unable to take any action at this point in response to the treatment of residents at Bayside Villas, according to a letter sent to U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio.
Nearly a month after Rubio sent a letter to Attorney General Pam Bondi asking her to investigate Bayside Villas as a consumer protection issue, the attorney general’s director of civil rights said in a letter dated Jan. 6 that “any violation must affect trade or commerce and meet other requirements that do not appear, based upon what you describe in your letter, to be present here.”
Monday night, a spokesman for Rubio’s office released a statement: “We appreciate the Florida attorney general’s office looking into this matter and we will continue working to get Bayside Villas residents the assistance they need.”
In Rubio’s letter, which was sent Dec. 15 to Bondi, he details residents’ complaints of unlivable conditions, inconsistent enforcement of the complex’s car towing policy, discrimination and threats to refuse renewals or evict without probable cause. Rubio’s office began looking into complaints about the Palmetto apartments after the Bradenton Herald’s first reports in November.
“Our office is deeply troubled by the allegations in your correspondence and, of course, we are willing to provide whatever assistance we can under the law,” Danille Carroll, director of civil rights, said in the Jan. 6 letter. “Allegations of discriminatory housing practices cannot be ignored and should be a concern to everyone.”
While Bondi’s office determined the matter is not a potential consumer protection violation, Carroll said it may “raise potential state or federal fair housing issues.” The letter goes on to detail the appropriate complaint procedures and should the Florida Commission on Human Relations “find there is reasonable cause to believe that a discriminatory housing practice has occurred,” then the attorney general may take action.
“Our authority to act, however, occurs after FCHR completes its investigation, finds reasonable cause and the complainant requests our office to represent them in the matter,” Carroll said. “This Office can then proceed, once the Commission has conducted a full investigation and found cause to pursue the matter.”
But since Bayside Villas complaints involves the U.S. Department of Agriculture and U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development Section 8 vouchers, Carroll said they reached out to HUD on behalf of Rubio “to make sure they are aware of the apparent deplorable situation at Bayside Villas.”
“As a Section 8 facility, inspections of the housing quality at Bayside Villas should be conducted at least annually by either HUD or the appropriate local housing authority pursuant to federal regulations,” Carroll said.