Justices decline to hear rent control fight
By Jim Saunders
News Service of Florida
April 17, 2023
TALLAHASSEE — The Florida Supreme Court on Monday declined to take up a battle about an effort to impose rent controls in Orange County, after an appeals court rejected a rent-control measure on last year’s ballot.
As is common, the Supreme Court did not explain its decision. But justices effectively let stand an Oct. 27 ruling by the 5th District Court of Appeal that sided with the industry group Florida Realtors and the Florida Apartment Association and blocked the rent-control measure.
The Orange County Commission in August passed an ordinance that put the rent-control proposal on the November ballot. But the appeals court pointed, in part, to a 1977 state law designed to prevent rent controls and said Orange County had not met requirements to justify its proposal.
A panel of the appeals court, in a 2-1 ruling, said the ordinance’s findings did not illustrate an “existing housing emergency” as required by law.
“While we do not minimize the evidence supporting a complex, multifaceted issue affecting renters in Orange County, it was insufficient under the law to support a rent control measure,” the 34-page majority opinion said.
The late-October ruling came as voters were already casting ballots in the November election, with the appeals court saying that, at a minimum, it anticipated “the results of the ballot initiative will not be certified.” The measure appeared on the ballot and received support from 59 percent of voters, according to the Orange County Supervisor of Elections website.
Orange County took the case to the Supreme Court, disputing the appeals court’s interpretation of the 1977 law and urging justices to resolve the dispute.
“The Fifth District has interpreted the statute in such a restrictive manner that even findings of a genuine and grave housing emergency will never be sufficient to present rent control measures to the voters,” Orange County attorneys wrote in a December brief. “Respectfully, the (Supreme) Court should exercise its jurisdiction to ensure local governments maintain the ability to address housing emergencies through rent control measures under appropriate circumstances.”
But in a January brief, attorneys for the rent-control opponents made a series of arguments about why the Supreme Court should not hear the case, including that the “Fifth District issued a thorough and well-reasoned opinion providing clear guidance to the trial court and to the parties.”
Five of seven Supreme Court justices take part in decisions about whether to hear cases. Justices Charles Canady, John Couriel, Jamie Grosshans and Renatha Francis agreed the court should not take up the case, according to Monday’s decision. Justice Jorge Labarga supported hearing arguments.
As the Supreme Court considered the case, lawmakers and Gov. Ron DeSantis last month approved a wide-ranging housing bill (SB 102) that prohibits local rent controls.