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Cities may not have to comply with Orange County’s rent capping measure

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Norine Dworkin


Monday, August 22, 2022


John Kannenberg

Even if the ballot measure passes in November, cities can opt out by passing their own ordinances. Nicole Wilson, District 1 County Commissioner, said that "would erode the efficacy in some areas of the county."

Language added late to Orange County’s Rent Stabilization Ordinance (RSO) — added so late it wasn’t even included in the draft that county commissioners voted on on Aug. 9 to put on the November ballot — will allow cities to opt out of the 12-month rent moratorium even if voters approve the measure.

The ordinance would prevent, for one year, some landlords from denying agreed-on housing, increasing rents by more than 9.8 percent and raising any rents more than once during the 12-month period. (The 9.8 percent cap is tied to the Consumer Price Index increase over a 12-month span for urban consumers in the South, although rents in the county have risen by as much as 30 percent.)

However, with the new language, the ordinance now states, “…this ordinance will not be effective within those incorporated areas that have enacted a duly adopted ordinance exempting such incorporated area from this ordinance.”

Allowing municipalities to opt out tacks one more exemption onto the already lengthy list of exemptions to the RSO: luxury apartments, condos, co-ops, mother-in-law suites, buildings with fewer than four units, rooms in homes and townhouses, mobile homes and lots, government or subsidized housing, timeshares and new rentals that get their certificates of occupancy after the ordinance goes into effect on Nov. 21. Now, even if Orange County voters OK the measure, renters living in one of the few situations not already exempted may still not be protected by the ordinance, if their city opts out.

The request for the county to add new language came from Winter Garden’s city manager, Jon Williams, and city attorney, Kurt Ardaman.

“If it’s approved in November, the city will have that opportunity to opt out, otherwise it will apply to every city that does not have a competing ordinance,” Ardaman told the Winter Garden City Commission at its Aug. 11 meeting.

“All cities generally advocate for this type of language as home rule protection,” Williams told VoxPopuli in an email. Even with its many exemptions, the RSO may not even apply in Winter Garden, he added, but said they would “continue to research the ordinance.”

“Home rule is very important,” echoed Lisa Bennett, Winter Garden’s District 1 city commissioner, in an email. “Mayor Demings said in a recent re-election mail-out that he wants home rule for Orange County from Tallahassee. I feel the same for Winter Garden. It’s important we don’t lose that.”

In 2021 when Orange County passed a ban on retail sales of puppies, kittens and bunnies, Ocoee’s city commission cited home rule to opt out of enforcing that ban and drafted its own legislation to create a carve-out for Chews A Puppy, a pet retailer that has been accused of selling sick puppies from puppy mills.

Winter Garden did not request opt out language for that particular county ordinance.

Ron Mueller, Winter Garden’s District 2 city commissioner, said the announcement about the opt out language took him by surprise. While he described the RSO as having “so many loopholes in there that it has no teeth to make a meaningful difference,” he emphasized in a phone interview that it was still important as a “stop gap measure to ensure people can continue to afford their homes and remain in them through this inflationary period.”

Mueller likened the RSO to Winter Garden’s moratorium on issuing liquor licenses. “The city said We need a moratorium that creates no more liquor licenses for up to 12 months while we sort through the legislation and get everything on track. Would they not want to do the same with out-of-control rent where it’s affecting family lives and homelessness? Would we not want a moratorium to control that until the situation changes more favorably?

“We talk about ‘one Winter Garden’ and how important it is we work as a community,” he continued. “We also have to look at ourselves in a broader stance, and that’s as 'one county.' No one city can fix the tenant issue with rising rent costs. We have to work cooperatively together to get it under control.”

Orange County District 1 Commissioner Nicole Wilson,  one of the four who voted in favor of putting the measure on the November ballot, also expressed surprise about the opt-out language. She told VoxPopuli in an email that “a municipal opt out would erode the efficacy in some areas of the county.” She said that given the litany of exemptions already dictated by Florida statute, she was “surprised the municipalities would find a need to opt out.”

Last week, the Florida Apartment Association and the Florida Realtors filed a lawsuit against Orange County to keep the RSO off the November ballot. Critics have lined up to offer reasons why they think that the measure won’t solve the rent emergency.

Wilson acknowledges the RSO is not the singular answer. “It’s not a panacea,” she said via email. “At best this a slight tap on the brakes for renters who are experiencing rent increases at breakneck speed. It will sunset after a year, or go back to the voters, so we have to move quickly on the other strategies to increase supply and provide relief.”

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