Rent control’s on November ballot in Orlando. Is Miami next?

Measure will ask if rents should be capped at CPI increases

Orlando, rents, multifamily market, affordable housing

As Florida experiences unprecedented apartment rent hikes amid a pandemic migration to the Sun Belt, Orlando is taking a step toward trying to curb the increases.

The Board of Commissioners for Orange County, which includes Orlando, moved last week to put a rent-control measure on the November ballot that would cap increases tied to the adjustment in the area’s Consumer Price Index, The Wall Street Journal reported.

The ceiling would apply only to multifamily buildings, exempting single-family properties and possibly other landlords who ask to be carved out because of rising operating and maintenance costs.

Orange County is the first in Florida to push back against the state’s long-standing prohibition on local government control of rents. Under state law, an exemption is only allowed if a city or a county provides well-researched rationale as to why rent control is necessary, and then gets it approved at a referendum. If passed, a rent cap is allowed for a year, and another referendum is needed to extend it for another year.

The ballot measure has led to tensions boiling over between local governments trying to give renters some relief and trade groups pushing back, arguing in part that that’s not the way to alleviate the affordability crisis. The Florida Apartment Association sued Orange County saying the referendum violates state law.

Other Florida markets such as Miami-Dade County and Tampa, which have also received an out-of-state influx, have brought up the possibility of rent control, as well as a slew of other initiatives to alleviate rent hikes.

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In the year that ended June 30, Orlando area rents rose 24 percent, while those in South Florida climbed 37 percent, according to a report.

Miami-Dade is in the midst of its own study aiming to show rent control is necessary. It also has implemented the Tenant’s Bill of Rights that affords renters a 60-day eviction notice period and the right to deduct unit repair costs from the rent if the landlord did not fix the issue. Mayor Daniella Levine Cava has said she will ask commissioners to budget for a right to counsel-type program that would provide attorneys to low-income tenants in eviction and other disputes with their landlords.

The Miami Association of Realtors has pushed back, arguing some of these initiatives are counterproductive. They say the measures are scaring off developers from building more apartments, at a time when additional supply would truly alleviate the crisis, said Enrique Teran, the association’s president.

As landlords’ costs for taxes, insurance and maintenance increase, local governments should be thinking of ways to incentivize development, such as by waiving taxes for a few years, Teran said.

“It all comes down to: We gotta build our way out of this thing,” he said.

Lidia Dinkova