TALLAHASSEE — Dozens of cities and counties across Florida have passed bills of “rights” for tenants, setting standards around rent increases, applications and evictions.
State lawmakers are looking to undo all of them.
On Wednesday, the House passed HB 1417 on a vote of 81-33, largely along party lines, and the Senate is preparing to take up its companion, SB 1586, on Friday. The bills would prohibit local governments from governing the relationships between tenants and landlords, like the ones created by Pinellas and Miami-Dade counties last year.
Instead, landlords and renters would have to follow the state’s Florida Landlord and Tenant Act, which is less robust than local ordinances.
Republican lawmakers said the bills are meant to eliminate the patchwork of regulations that vary from city to city and, they say, drive up rents.
“This bill protects tenants, this bill protects property owners and this bill protects capitalism,” said Rep. Tiffany Esposito, R-Fort Myers, the sponsor of the House bill.
Democratic lawmakers say they see the legislation as a giveaway to landlords, and they said the state law doesn’t go far enough to protect struggling renters.
“I cannot believe that proponents of this bill are labeling it a ‘tenants bill of rights,’” said Rep. Angie Nixon, D-Jacksonville. “This bill is designed to help corporate landlords at the expense of tenants, many of which are already struggling to stay in their homes.”
The legislation underscores the philosophical divide between Republicans and Democrats — and state and local government — on how to respond to the state’s affordable housing crisis.
During the pandemic, many cities and counties adopted a “bill of rights” establishing guidelines around the tenant-landlord relationship.
Miami-Dade County’s ordinance, for example, bans landlords from asking about past evictions on rental applications and requires landlords to notify tenants of new owners. Pinellas County and St. Petersburg have both passed ordinances requiring landlords to provide more notice before raising fees or rents.
Landlords have pushed back against the ordinances, and they have found a sympathetic ear in Tallahassee, where lawmakers have touted a “free-market” approach to the crisis. Real estate agents and property managers have come out in support of the measures.
The Legislature last month passed a sweeping affordable housing measure that invested more than $700 million to spur new development — but also prohibited local governments from adopting rent controls. Lawmakers did change the law last year to require landlords of apartment complexes to perform background checks on employees, after a young Orlando woman was killed by her apartment’s maintenance worker.
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“It’s a scary reality that local governments are making it impossible for developers to provide housing for tenants,” said Rep. David Borrero, R-Sweetwater, who works for a construction company.
If HB 1417 and SB 1586 pass, tenants and landlords across the state would be bound by state law known as the Florida Residential Landlord and Tenant Act.
The law includes requirements for both landlords and tenants to maintain the premises, sets guidelines about landlords making unannounced visits and requires landlords and tenants to give a certain amount of notice before canceling a lease.
The bills would make changes to the law in different ways.
Before canceling a month-to-month lease, both bills would require landlords to give 30 days’ notice instead of the current 15.
Rental agreements for longer leases would require at least between 30 and 60 days’ notice, instead of the current requirement of not more than 60 days, under the House bill. The Senate bill would require such agreements to have 60-day notices.
The Senate bill has another benefit: A landlord who wants to raise rent by 5% or more would have to give the tenant at least 60 days’ notice.
Several communities, including Miami-Dade County, also created new offices to enforce their new tenant-landlord rules. Those offices could still exist under the bill, Esposito said, but they could no longer enforce local tenant ordinances.
Rep. Anna Eskamani, D-Orlando, said the current state law, Chapter 83, doesn’t include simple protections such as requiring landlords to offer rental agreements in the renters’ language and prohibiting landlords from rejecting prospective tenants who rely on government assistance for one-time move-in expenses.
“Chapter 83 is not only the bare minimum, Chapter 83 is designed to benefit the landlord, period,” Eskamani said.
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