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State could override local tenant laws

By Jim Saunders

News Service of Florida

March 20, 2023

TALLAHASSEE — After some cities and counties have passed ordinances about renters’ rights, a Florida House panel on Monday approved a bill that would lead to state law trumping local regulations governing landlords and tenants.

The Republican-controlled House Civil Justice Subcommittee voted 11-5 along party lines to support the bill (HB 1417), which sponsor Tiffany Esposito, R-Fort Myers, said would bring “consistency” across the state.

“This bill is not punishing renters,” Esposito said. “This bill is protecting both tenants and landlords.”

But amid widespread affordable-housing problems, opponents said local governments should be able to set regulations. Rep. Ashley Gantt, D-Miami, described the bill as “very offensive” to her as a renter.

“We have 67 counties, and each county is very different in its makeup, which means that all the citizens in those counties have unique experiences,” Gantt said. “Local governments touch the people the most.”

In recent years, cities and counties, including in heavily populated areas such as Miami-Dade, Broward, Orange, Hillsborough and Pinellas counties, have passed ordinances — frequently described as a tenant “bill of rights” — that go beyond a state law known as the Florida Residential Landlord and Tenant Act.

The ordinances deal with a variety of issues, such as notices about rent increases, notices about fees and notices about changes of ownership. Esposito said 46 ordinances are in place in cities and counties.

Esposito’s proposal is what is known as a “pre-emption” bill because state law would pre-empt, or override, the authority of local governments. Sen. Jay Trumbull, R-Panama City, has filed a Senate version of the bill (SB 1586), which has not been heard in committees as the 60-day legislative session enters its third week.

During Monday’s meeting, the House bill was supported by groups such as the Florida Apartment Association and Florida Realtors, while drawing opposition from groups such as the Florida Association of Counties and the NAACP.

Opponent Jackson Oberlink, a lobbyist for the group Florida Rising, said the bill would “strip away the power of everyday people to pass local solutions to the housing crisis in our own communities.”

“The affordable housing crisis is not being caused by a lack of consistency,” Oberlink said. “This pre-emptive state mandate is not the solution to our affordable-housing crisis.”

But Rep. Toby Overdorf, R-Palm City, called the proposal a “great free-enterprise bill” and, along with Esposito, pointed to concerns about government regulation.

“If we want to solve the affordable-housing crisis, we do that through a free-market approach,” Esposito said. “And adding levels of bureaucracy and extra pieces that our landlords and our owners need to jump through hoops is just increasing the cost of doing business, which is passed on to our consumers. So, this is absolutely a piece of the puzzle in order to reduce the cost of housing.”

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