Nothing stops Florida landlords from raising rents as high as they want

Amber Randall, South Florida Sun Sentinel on

Published in Business News

Landlords “will do whatever they want because they know that people need a place to live,” she said.

Legislative failure

The possibility of changing that seems unlikely in Florida, said Broward County Commissioner Nan Rich, an outspoken advocate for affordable housing.

“It’s getting worse,” Nan said. “People don’t always realize that it’s people that they deal with in business everyday, and in the service sector. It’s people who work in our doctor’s offices or people work as bank teller.”

Florida law gives landlords broad discretion to raise rents as they see fit. Local governments are prevented from putting in any sort of price controls, including housing, unless they can prove that there is “a housing emergency so grave as to constitute a serious menace to the general public.”

Not only does local government have to prove there is a crisis, it must have an election to get an ordinance passed for any rent control program and then have a yearly election to keep the program going.

For the past two years, Democratic state Rep. Anna Eskamani of Orange County has put forth a bill that would give local governments more power to set rent control or rent stabilization programs.

Eskamani’s proposals would have abolished the requirement for annual voter approval. Her latest bill failed in a subcommittee in the Republican-dominated Legislature.

Nan said Broward County is considering a budget that would increase funding for the Broward County Affordable Housing Trust fund from $5.6 million to $12.5 million. That’s money that can be used only for affordable housing.


Are rent controls the answer?

Some housing leaders see a need for rent controls to stabilize the market and protect lower-income renters. Capping rent increases also would help the South Florida economy by ensuring that workers have a place to live and can stay in the area, said Murray at FIU.

But others argue that the key to controlling rent increases is building more rental buildings. A shortage of rental spaces inevitably leads to more demand than supply — and thus higher rents, they say.

In Palm Beach County, for example, there is a need for an additional 6,683 rental apartments for 2020 to 2023, according to a housing needs assessment.

Rather than rent controls, local leaders should address the issue by focusing on more affordable housing for workers or by eliminating single-family zoning to allow for more apartments, said Suzanne Cabrera of the Housing Leadership Council of Palm Beach County, a nonprofit organization that focuses on the need for affordable housing.

Ken Morris, president of Morris Southeast Group in Fort Lauderdale, said rent controls would be difficult to achieve, as many developers need a certain return on the properties they build. Rent control can make it difficult.

Instead, policies need to focus on building workforce housing to make South Florida a place where people who work can actually afford to live, he said.

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