New tenant protections in Orange County could be threatened, under Florida housing proposal

Critics say the preemption bill only benefits landlords, not Florida renters

click to enlarge Florida's Capitol building in Tallahassee - Adobe
Florida's Capitol building in Tallahassee

A Florida bill that could ban local governments from passing or retaining renter protections not currently afforded to Floridians under state law was approved along party lines today, with Republicans in favor of the preemption bill and Democrats against.

The bill, HB 1417, dubbed the “Florida Residential Landlords and Tenants Act,” would gut any protections offered to tenants by local governments, such as Orange County’s Tenant Bill of Rights, shifting all authority over relations between tenants and landlords to the state.

Critics, including Florida Rising — which has advocated for stronger tenant protections in Orange County and across the state — have bashed the bill for removing the ability of local leaders to pass local laws that make sense for addressing housing affordability problems in their communities.

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

Florida Republicans advance a housing preemption bill that "only benefits price gougers, not consumers" according to critics

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The bill, introduced by Republican State Representative Tiffany Esposito, is warmly supported by the Florida Apartment Association and the Florida Realtors — two of the state’s largest trade groups representing landlords and real estate interests.

Those two groups are also plaintiffs in an ongoing lawsuit filed against Orange County last year for a rent stabilization ordinance that 59% of Orange County voters approved in November.

That ordinance would have — for just one year — capped rent hikes in Orange County at 9.8%. Since early 2020, average rent in the Orlando area, and Florida more broadly, is up at least 30%.

Real estate interests poured nearly $2 million into an anti-rent control campaign to thwart the ordinance’s passage, saying that rent stabilization (also referred to as “rent control”) would unfairly regulate landlords’ right to price-gouge, and have other effects they claimed could worsen Florida’s affordable housing crisis.

Instead, more voters in the Democratic-leaning Orange County voted for the ordinance than for Democratic gubernatorial candidate Charlie Crist, or for former U.S. Rep. Val Demings, who ran for Marco Rubio’s U.S. Senate seat.

On Monday, a member of the Florida Apartment Association said HB 1417 would offer more consistency for property managers, arguing that the current inconsistency in housing laws across different municipalities creates undue burden on the landlord class.

“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,” said Jimmy Chestnut, senior vice president of Incore Residential, a multifamily property management company.

Under state law, there is currently no limit on how much a landlord can increase a tenant's rent.

There is also no statewide protection against source-of-income discrimination in housing, although Orange County among other municipalities have passed local laws addressing that anti-discrimination gap.

Florida is home to over 400 cities and 67 counties. According to Esposito, 46 housing-related ordinances (i.e., local laws) in 35 different counties across the state would be preempted by this bill, if approved and signed into law.

This could include protections afforded to Orange County residents under the newly enacted Tenant’s Bill of Rights ordinance, as well as an ordinance requiring 60 days’ notice of lease termination and of rent increases above 5%, according to housing justice advocates.

It could also affect a new flood disclosure requirement initiative being considered by elected leaders in Osceola County.

Orlando Weekly reached out to the Orange County government to ask for their response to this bill, but that has not come in as of publication. The county recently celebrated the opening of its new Office of Tenant Services, meant to help assist local renters and enforce new tenant protections.

“The goal is consistency,” said Esposito, in her explanation of HB 1417 in front of the Florida House’s Civil Justice Subcommittee Monday.

The only perk of the bill, according to critics, is that it would alter Florida law to require landlords give tenants at least 60 days’ notice if they want them to vacate the unit at the end of a rental agreement, or 30 days’ notice for tenants renting month-to-month.

Currently, Florida law only requires "up to" 60 days’ notice, and just 15 days for those renting month-to-month.

But, this is “crumbs,” according to Alana Greer of the Community Justice Project, a Miami nonprofit. “HB 1417 is a naked power grab by corporate landlords,” Greer told Orlando Weekly over email.

“Renters are organizing and winning common-sense local fixes to address the housing crisis across the state, and corporate landlords can't be bothered to do something as simple as give their tenants a few weeks' notice before hiking rents and imposing junk fees,” she added. “This bill would have a catastrophic impact on renters and is an affront to all Floridians who care about local democracy.”

When asked by State Rep. Ashley Gantt (D) whether HB 1417 would provide any direct relief to renters struggling under Florida’s unaffordable housing crisis, Esposito curtly confirmed it would not.

“That is not addressed in this bill,” she told the committee, without offering any additional comment.

During discussion, Rep. Johanna Lopez of the Orlando area expressed concern about how the bill would affect renters locally. “What do I tell my constituents when they hear this legislature is pushing a bill to ban renter protections?” she asked. “This bill only protects landlords.”

Esposito wryly suggested at one point that Florida lawmakers who are unhappy with her bill, or who want to add additional protections for renters, file their own legislation to accomplish as much.

Turns out, they have. Orlando State Rep. Anna Eskamani has filed a sweeping pro-tenants bill, HB 1407, that would expand — not preempt — tenant protections at the state level.

Among other things, the “Keeping Floridians Housed Act,” as it's been titled, would create a state Department of Housing & Tenant Rights, prohibit evictions during a declared state of emergency, outlaw common predatory landlord practices, and allow victims of domestic violence or stalking to end a rental agreement early without penalties under certain circumstances.

Activist and Democratic National Committee member Thomas Kennedy called out Esposito on Twitter for failing to acknowledge Eskamani’s massive bill, which is yet to get a hearing.

Esposito’s bill passed its first committee stop today 11–5, with Democratic Reps. Kristen Arrington, Ashley Gantt, Johanna Lopez, Kimberly Davis and Daryl Campbell voting against it.

A Senate version has been introduced, but not heard. HB 1417 would need to clear two more committees before heading to a vote by the full Florida House, which is controlled by a supermajority of Republicans.


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McKenna Schueler

News reporter for Orlando Weekly, with a focus on state and local government, workers' rights, and housing issues. Previously worked for WMNF Radio in Tampa. You can find her bylines in Creative Loafing Tampa Bay, In These Times, Strikewave, and Facing South among other publications.
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