Florida Gov. DeSantis approves another industry-backed bill gutting local tenant protections | Florida News | Orlando

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Photo via Ron DeSantis/Twitter


“Benefits price-gougers, not consumers.”

Those were some choice words used to describe a new industry-backed bill, the “Florida Residential Landlord and Tenant Act,” signed into law by Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis on Thursday — the final day the governor had to either approve or veto it.

The controversial measure, passed by Florida’s Republican-dominated Legislature in April, effectively overrides all local regulations involving landlords and tenants, preempting them to the state.

It came in the wake of a movement of local residents and advocacy groups, mostly in larger metro areas, organizing for stronger tenant protections in their communities, amid massive rent hikes in recent years and an unforgivable market pushing people out of their homes.

Most Republicans voted in favor of the measure (HB 1417) this past legislative session.

Most Democrats opposed it. Just one Democrat in either House or Senate chambers — Sen. Linda Stewart of Orlandovoted in support.

At least 46 local laws across more than 30 cities and counties in Florida could stand to be affected by the new law, according to the Republican bill sponsor Rep. Tiffany Esposito, whose office did not respond to a request for that full list.

Local regulations that could be affected (and thus, wiped out) include local fair notice requirements, “tenant’s bill of rights” ordinances, or any other regulations concerning security deposits, terms and conditions of a rental agreement, and the rights and responsibilities of tenants and landlords.

Esposito admitted urban areas such as Orlando, the Tampa Bay region and Miami will be disproportionately affected.

In Central Florida, Orange County government just this year approved its own tenant bill of rights ordinance (which includes source-of-income protections).

Local leaders also approved fair notice requirements, requiring local landlords to provide at least 60 days’ notice of lease termination or rent hikes above 5%, and created an Office of Tenant Services to enforce it.

While there was concern initially that the bill would affect source of income anti-discrimination protections put in place by some municipalities, a staff attorney for the Orange County government recently shared that their legal team doesn’t believe such protections would be wiped.

A spokesperson for the County Mayor Jerry Demings told Orlando Weekly the mayor has no response when we requested comment.

According to Zillow data analyzed by The Guardian, average rent in Orange County jumped 33% from 2020 to 2023 — equal to hundreds of dollars in rent per month.

Housing prices surged most everywhere across the nation in 2021 and 2022, but especially so in the Sun Belt and Mountain West regions, The Guardian reports.

The Central Florida region, home to Disney World and other tourist attractions, has long struggled with issues of homelessness and affordable housing, as an area economically dependent on the labor of a low-wage workforce.

Critics of the bill, including many Democrats, the Florida AFL-CIO and advocacy groups like Florida Rising, have blasted the preemption measure as anti-consumer, predatory, a giveaway to landlords and a prime example of Big Government stepping in to trample on local freedoms. A coalition of advocates had also urged DeSantis to veto it.

“Floridians know what we need in our communities,” Jackson Oberlink, a lobbyist for Florida Rising, said during public testimony on the bill. “This corporate state mandate takes away our power to address the housing crisis that currently leaves renters extremely vulnerable to tearing landlords and it only benefits price gougers, not consumers.”

Rep. Esposito, a Chamber of Commerce executive and first-term politician, rebuffed claims from critics that the bill was stacked against tenants or pro-landlord.

“This bill protects tenants,” she argued. “This bill protects property owners, and this bill protects capitalism.”

“This bill protects tenants,” the bill sponsor shared. “This bill protects property owners, and this bill protects capitalism.”

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The bill was backed by industry groups like the Florida Realtors and Florida Apartment Association, which sued the Orange County government over a rent stabilization measure last year that’s since been blocked from going into effect.

The Apartment Association has also deployed lobbyists and members to city and county meetings to block local tenant protections in places like Hillsborough County and St. Petersburg.

During public testimony in March, a member of the FAA’s board of directors testified in support of HB 1417, arguing that Florida’s patchwork of local tenant regulations just creates confusion for landlords, who, for example, can legally discriminate against Section 8 voucher holders in most parts of Florida (since that form of discrimination is not prohibited under state law), but not in all.

“Protecting this regulatory consistency is critical to ensure that Florida remains a desirable place for housing providers to develop and continue to offer housing opportunities for Florida’s growing population,” Jimmy Chestnut, Regional Vice President with RPM Living, told state lawmakers.

Republicans who supported the bill also emphasized the importance of consistency in policy, while shutting down attempts by Democrats to add enhanced tenant protections to state statutes.

Florida Democrats in the House, including several from the Central Florida region, filed over 20 amendments to the bill — some more symbolic than others.

One amendment would have changed the title of the policy to the “End of Local Freedoms Act.”

Another would have reestablished local governments’ ability to temporarily implement rent control as an emergency measure, with community input.

Another would have at least protected fair notice requirements and ‘tenant bill of rights’ ordinances from this bill’s preemption, since existing ordinances will not be grandfathered in.

Another still (from local Rep. Anna Eskamani) would have directed the state to establish a statewide task force on tenant abuses and anti-free market practices.

But Republican lawmakers, who hold a supermajority in the state legislature, blocked all of them. Many have received generous donations from the trade groups that supported the bill (granted, so have many Democrats).

As a crumb for tenants, the new law will modify the state’s notice period for terminating month-to-month tenancies, from 15 days’ notice to 30 days’ notice.

It also changes the notice period under current law for tenants with rental agreements of a specific duration from 60 days’ notice minimum to no less than 30 days’ and no more than 60 days’ notice.

It does nothing to provide direct relief to renters, critics say.

Alana Greer, Director of the Community Justice Project, said, “In the midst of an unprecedented crisis for renters, Governor DeSantis just gutted scores of local, common sense solutions to keep families housed. HB 1417 is clear evidence that the Governor and the Florida legislature will choose to line the pockets of corporate landlords and lobbyists at the expense of hardworking Floridians.”

Gov. DeSantis, who has tossed his hat into what’s sure to be a messy U.S. presidential race, also recently signed into law other housing-related bills that critics believe will either actively hurt, or do little to help working families struggling to find or maintain affordable housing.

One bill, described as predatory by critics, allows landlords to charge nonrefundable, limitless “junk fees” to tenants in lieu of a security deposit.

Another priority of the legislature, dubbed the “Live Local Act,” bans rent control in Florida, while throwing financial incentives at private developers to build more affordable housing.

That legislation, described as a boost for workforce housing, ostensibly recognizes that truly affordable housing, not just luxury housing for wealthy retirees and northern transplants, is sorely needed for working Floridians who have been priced out of their homes, or who come to Florida hoping for a fair chance at a decent life (starting with the bare minimum of a place to call home).

What will actually come of that $711 million investment is yet to be seen.

Meanwhile, in Central Florida, homelessness has increased in the last year, although local electeds have rolled out new initiatives (not for the first time) to address the multifaceted issue.

Former president and reality TV star Donald Trump, DeSantis’ main competitor in the Republican presidential primary, recently rolled out his own plan to address homelessness, should he be re-elected, describing homeless people as “violent and dangerously deranged” in a video explainer.

The Trump administration, prior to leadership under Biden, also tried (unsuccessfully) to disincentivize the use of Housing First policies, an approach that Orlando and Orange County leaders have embraced, recognizing that a safe, stable place to live is first and foremost what people need in order to meaningfully address any other issues, including substance use, job insecurity and mental illness.

HB 1417 isn’t the only controversial bill that had been awaiting a final say from DeSantis, however.

Another bill (SB 170) that would allow businesses to sue municipalities over local laws, and make it easier to block them, was also signed into law Thursday. That bill is backed by some of the state’s biggest business interests, including the Florida Realtors Association and the Florida Restaurant and Lodging Association (which opposed the successful campaign to raise Florida’s minimum wage in 2020).  A similar version of the bill was vetoed last year.

When emailed for comment, the governor’s office did not immediately respond to a request for comment on his approval of HB 1417.

This is a developing story.

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