By MIKE SCHNEIDER
ORLANDO, Fla. (AP) — Ballots haven’t even been printed yet, but already a group of landlords, apartment managers and real estate agents in Florida want to stop voters from deciding on a measure that would implement rent control for a year in the theme park hub that has been one of the fastest-growing metro areas in the U.S.
The Florida Apartment Association and the Florida Association of Realtors last week sued Orange County, Florida, in an attempt to invalidate a ballot initiative aimed at limiting how much landlords can increase rents. If passed by voters in the fall, it would be the first such measure in decades in the Sunshine State.
The associations say that Florida law prohibits rent control ordinances except in an emergency, and the current situation in the county that is home to Orlando doesn’t rise to that standard. They also say that the ordinance could have the unintended consequence of making the situation worse by discouraging the construction of new apartment buildings and other housing.
“It is adverse and antagonistic to the public interest and to the interests of the Plaintiffs and their members to allow the Rent-Control Ordinance to be placed on the ballot or enforced by Orange County where the Ordinance is unlawful and invalid,” the associations said in court papers.
Earlier this month, Orange County’s Board of County Commissioners narrowly approved the rent control ordinance, which now goes to voters for approval in November. The ordinance limits rent increases in multiunit buildings to the annual increase in the Consumer Price Index. The ordinance doesn’t apply to luxury units, single family homes or vacation rentals.
Violators of the ordinance could face fines of up to $1,000 per day for a first violation, with fines not exceeding $15,000 per offense. Landlords would be able to request an exception to the limits under certain conditions.
According to the measure passed by commissioners, the asking-rent-per-unit in Orange County has grown from $1,357 in 2020 to $1,697 in 2021, the highest increase since 2006, and the county has a shortage of as many as 26,500 housing units.
“For years, renters have been asking this commission to do something about the upcoming emergency we are in right now,” Stephanie Porta, a cofounder of the social justice group Florida Rising, said last month during a commission meeting. “Corporate landlords, real estate investors and developers are raising prices and making record profits while hardworking Orange County residents are priced out of their communities.”
The city of Miami Beach in the 1960s and 1970s imposed rent control measures before the Florida law limiting them was passed. The Orange County ordinance would be the first such measure in the state in decades. Rent control measures have passed in California and Oregon, as well as in metro areas like St. Paul, Minnesota, and Portland, Oregon.
Orange County grew from 1.1 million residents to 1.4 million residents during the last decade, according to the 2020 census.