Orange County commissioners punt rent control question in heated meeting

click to enlarge You probably can't afford to live anywhere in this photo. - Adobe
You probably can't afford to live anywhere in this photo.

Orange County commissioners managed to pass minor protections for Orlando-area renters, in a heated meeting surrounding the idea of imposing rent control.

After a 10-hour meeting that included testimony from activists and tenants, pushback from landlords, and a confrontation between Commissioner Emily Bonilla and Mayor Jerry Demings, the commission ultimately punted an ordinance that would place rent control measures on a November ballot.

The final decision on the proposed rent control ordinance will take place on Aug. 9. The proposal would cap rent increases in Orange County for a year, should voters approve the measure. That vote will be preceded by a final public hearing.

Tuesday's hearing was contentious, with hours of testimony about the rent control ordinance. Landlords argued that the initiative was poison to their business, while advocates and ordinance sponsor Bonilla argued that the updated language of the proposal did not go far enough.

At issue were the carve-outs for landlords that would allow exemptions for property tax and maintenance increases. Bonilla also worried that the exemptions in the law would lead to very few apartments being covered.

"The point came when I saw this ordinance and these additions that the board had not discussed and basically what I said was, ‘You work for the board and the people of Orange County, not for the developers,’ " Bonilla said of recent changes to the text.

Orange County Mayor Jerry Demings countered that the changes were necessary to avoid running afoul of Florida law, and criticized the way Bonilla supposedly treated council staff.

"I have a staff member who briefed me on some language that was used,” Demings said. "At the very least it was disrespectful to the staff. As elected officials, we have a responsibility to treat our staff with dignity and respect. Do not mistreat them."

Ultimately, the council was able to pass one small measure of protection. Landlords in Orange County will now be required to give 60 days notice in writing of any rent increase greater than 5 percent.

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