By Jim Saunders ©2023 The News Service of Florida
TALLAHASSEE — As Florida grapples with a shortage of affordable housing, the Senate on Friday gave final approval to a bill that could lead to landlords collecting monthly fees instead of security deposits from renters.
The Senate also signed off on a measure that would lead to state law trumping local regulations governing landlords and tenants. Both measures are ready to go to Gov. Ron DeSantis.
Senators voted 31-7 to pass the bill (HB 133) about renters paying monthly fees. Supporters said it would provide an option to help renters get into apartments without having to come up with potentially large security deposits.
Senate sponsor Nick DiCeglie, R-Indian Rocks Beach, used an example of an apartment that costs $1,500 a month. He said a new tenant could be forced to pay twice that much to get into the apartment and might be able to better afford it by paying a monthly fee.
“Some folks don’t have $3,000,” DiCeglie said. “So this is simply an option.”
But opponents have said potential fees would not be capped and that renters wouldn’t be able to eventually recoup the money, like they might with security deposits. Also, after they move out, they could be forced to pay to repair damage to apartments.
Sen. Geraldine Thompson, D-Windermere, likened the bill, which passed the House last week, to “exploitation.”
“To allow this kind of profiteering, which is what this is, is not something that I can support,” Thompson said.
DiCeglie, however, said such fee arrangements are already being used and that the bill would “codify it and put some guardrails around it.”
Based on other areas where fees are used, bill supporters have said a renter would pay an average $25 monthly fee on a $1,500-a-month lease. Landlords could use the money to buy a type of insurance that would help pay for damage to units.
Meanwhile, the Senate voted 29-8 to pass a bill (HB 1417) that would lead to state law overriding — or “pre-empting” — local ordinances involving tenants and landlords. The House passed the bill Wednesday.
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.
During a House debate Wednesday, supporters said the state needs to take a free-market approach to addressing affordable-housing problems. They said local regulations drive up costs.
“The government is the problem when it comes to the affordable-housing crisis,” Rep. David Borrero, R-Sweetwater, said.
But Rep. Anna Eskamani, D-Orlando, issued a statement Friday describing the bill as “another slap in the face to Florida renters.”
“At a local level, governments like Orange County have put into place policies to try and make the playing field more equal for tenants,” Eskamani said. “These are modest but important proposals, and now they will all be eliminated when this bill is signed into law.”