Florida tenants have few rights. Officials try to help
Here’s the not-so-new news: Florida law leans heavily in favor of landlords and property rights. So there’s no cavalry coming to the rescue of tenants facing jaw-dropping rent increases in South Florida.
Governments can do little under state law to protect renters from price gouging. But they can protect tenants in other ways, such as through the order the Miami Beach City Commission unanimously approved this month requiring landlords to give 60 days notice before moving in. increase the rent by more than 5%. This rule could be extended to the rest of Miami-Dade County under legislation proposed by Commissioner Eileen Higgins.
Sixty days gives renters time to look for cheaper living options if they don’t plan to pay. But a rent increase is a rent increase, and many tenants won’t find greener pastures elsewhere.
So what else is available, or in the works, to help tenants? The Herald editorial board has compiled important information tenants need to know.
State law prevents cities and towns from imposing caps on rent increases in most cases, and Democratic bills in the Legislature are doomed.
There is an exception if a local government can declare a “housing emergency which is so serious that it poses a serious threat to the general public”. If we’re not here in Miami-Dade yet, we’re very close. The city or county would then ask voters to approve the control measures for one year, after which the same process would have to repeat for renewal, including voter approval.
In December, two dozen Democratic state lawmakers signed a letter asking Governor Ron DeSantis to declare a state of emergency due to the “ongoing affordable housing crisis” and directing the attorney general to “recognize any increase in rental prices greater than 10% as price gouging. DeSantis ignored the request. No surprise there.
Meanwhile, the St. Petersburg City Council voted in December to explore the idea of capping rent prices for a year. A similar move is unlikely to happen in Miami-Dade County or the City of Miami, given the conservative lean of some commissioners and the backlash it would face from builders and owners, who have also seen their costs increase thanks to inflation.
Rent control is not the only option available to local governments. Other creative solutions include granting tax exemptions to landlords who don’t raise rent above a certain threshold, state Rep. Anna Eskamani, D-Orlando, told the editorial board. . It is time for local governments to start thinking about it seriously.
A fix that won’t help
One of the Legislature’s solutions to the state’s housing affordability crisis was Senate Bill 884/Bill 537, which would allow landlords to charge tenants an unpaid monthly fee. refundable in lieu of an initial security deposit.
At first glance, this would relieve tenants who cannot afford high moving costs. But here’s the catch: Landlords wouldn’t be required to pay back fees at the end of the lease like they do with security deposits, nor would payments apply to damage beyond normal wear and tear. . This means that this alleged fix could cause more problems and expense for tenants who have no other option. Of course, it’s driven by LeaseLock, a finance company that offers the fee option in 129 Florida communities.
The legislature should offer more protections to tenants, not make them more vulnerable to potentially predatory practices that opponents liken to payday loans that trap workers in an endless cycle of debt.
Can I withhold my rent?
Many tenants are unaware that they can withhold rent payments if a landlord has failed or refused to provide important maintenance that renders “rented premises wholly unoccupied,” according to state law. The tenant must provide seven days written notice and give the landlord at least 20 days to make the repairs. The Florida Bar has a model of this notice on its website and instructions on how and when to withhold rent.
However, what is in the law often differs from reality. Horror stories of bug infestations, toxic mold in apartments and hostile landlords are common in Miami-Dade, as Zaina Alsous of the Miami Workers Center told the Herald editorial board. Her advice is for tenants living in uninhabitable conditions to talk to neighbors facing similar issues and organize – “There is power in the union,” she said.
Where can I ask for help?
The Miami Workers Center is one of the organizations that connects tenants at risk of eviction to legal and community advocacy. The Miami-Dade County Commission is creating a housing advocacy office, and commissioners Raquel Regalado and Jean Monestime are working on an ordinance called the Tenant’s Bill of Rights to define what that office will do.
A draft order shows the office would, among other things, create a tenant hotline and a webpage with resources and downloadable forms – i.e. eviction and withholding rent – approved by the Florida Bar and translated into Spanish and Creole.
Declaration of tenant rights
Here are some of the things the bill would do:
▪ Landlords could not require potential tenants to disclose a prior eviction until their application is approved. That information is public record, but Regalado said the rule would give applicants a face-to-face chance to be approved without prior expulsion looming against them.
▪ If a rental unit is sold, the seller or buyer must give tenants 60 days notice with a monthly agreement if the sale results in the termination of tenancies.
▪ Require landlords to provide tenants with notice of their rights no later than 10 days after signing or renewing a lease.
▪ Require landlords to notify tenants within 14 days of receiving notice that a residential building may be unsafe.
The Tenant Bill of Rights is “a first step,” Regalado told the drafting committee. It won’t solve the #1 problem tenants face: skyrocketing rents. And there are other issues that need to be addressed, like the fact that only 10% of tenants have legal representation when facing eviction, according to the Workers Center.
But in a state where tenants are often on their own, they will take whatever help they can get.
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