Friday, March 8, 2019

Florida lawmakers want to expand renter protections amid affordable housing crisis

Posted By on Fri, Mar 8, 2019 at 2:40 PM

Two Florida lawmakers want to expand protections for renters as the state's affordable housing crisis rages on with no end in sight.

State Sen. José Javier Rodríguez and Rep. Carlos Guillermo Smith are sponsors of identical measures SB 1794 and HB 1283, which aim to reform renters' rights and stop the "exploitation of vulnerable renters."

"I have seen firsthand the exploitation of Hurricane María evacuees by predatory landlords in our area: unjust evictions, stolen application fees and deposits, and zero housing security during times of crisis," says Smith, D-Orlando, in a statement. "Our working families cannot thrive without reliable and affordable housing."

The bill would require landlords to notify their tenants of a rent increase at least 30 days before renewing their lease. If the rent increase is over 5 percent, the landlord must give notification three months in advance. Landlords who don't return security deposits would be liable for damages in an amount equal to three times the deposit, the proposal says.

Costly application fees, which can be over $100 and are usually non-refundable, would have to be returned in the case of no available units, according to the measure. Currently, Florida does not limit landlords on the amount they can charge to just consider a tenant, but under the new bill, landlords cannot charge "excessive" application fees. 

The proposal also requires leases to be provided in the preferred language of the renter, puts a moratorium on evictions and foreclosures during natural disasters, and requires landlords to offer available units to existing tenants first before being sold or re-rented.

A major component of the bill protects renters from being evicted for "improper reasons." Landlords would still be able to evict their tenants for failing to pay rent or violating their lease, but the bill prohibits discrimination against renters based on sexual orientation and gender identity. In Florida, it's still legal to deny LGBTQ people housing, service and employment.

Landlords would also not be allowed to terminate the leases of survivors in incidents involving domestic violence, dating violence, sexual violence or stalking.

In Orlando, one out of every three households is considered "cost-burdened," which means they're spending more than 30 percent of their income on rent or mortgage rather than food, transportation, health care and other necessities.

The city's rents are rising ridiculously fast compared to other major U.S. cities, with an average rent of $1,472, according to a report from Zillow.  Renters in Orlando need to earn at least $16.33 an hour ($33,960 a year) just to afford a studio apartment and not be rent burdened, according to 2018 report from the National Low Income Housing Coalition.

The combination of low-paying jobs with the fact that only 17 rental units are available for every 100 extremely low-income renters in the Orlando-Kissimmee-Sanford area has lead to an extreme affordable housing crisis in the region.

"Our landlord-tenant laws have been out of balance for a long time, tipping the balance in favor of landlords," says Rodríguez, D-Miami, in a statement. "Especially at a time when affordable housing is at a crisis point in our state, we need to make sure tenants are protected as they spend more and more simply to keep a roof over their head."

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