Judges toss proposed Orange County rent control ordinance as voters begin casting ballots

Results of ballot initiative will not be certified, court expects

Courts blocked a controversial rent control proposal set to appear on the Orange County ballot in November after a consultant group determined that the housing situation in the county wasn't an emergency.

ORANGE COUNTY, Fla. – A contentious ballot initiative giving Orange County voters the chance to decide on whether to instate rent control for one year was blocked, according to a ruling filed Thursday.

The opinion from the 5th district court of appeals states a lower court had ruled incorrectly in September when deciding to block a temporary injunction of the ballot initiative that a lawsuit was after, making clear the appeal court’s latest intention was to “reverse and remand for its immediate issuance.”

The rent control ordinance was the target of a lawsuit in September filed by the Florida Apartment Association and the Florida Association of Realtors meant to invalidate the measure.

The initiative sought to cap rent increases to the same percentage as the Consumer Price Index for one year. It had been cleared to appear on ballots for the Nov. 8 election after the Orange County Board of Commissioners in August voted 4-3 in favor.

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Early voting began in Orange County on Monday and 29,252 ballots had been received from early voters in Orange County by 8:11 a.m. Friday, according to the Florida Division of Elections. The county also saw 72,510 vote-by-mail ballots at that time, as well.

The court did not say exactly how Supervisor of Elections Bill Cowles should enforce its decision but did say it expects the results of the ballot initiative will not be certified.

In the meantime, Cowles said Orange County voters should still submit their ballots.

“I think for the voter whether they have a vote by mail ballot at home that they haven’t voted, or they go early vote, or go to a polling place on election day, vote your ballot, because we don’t know what the status is,” Cowles said. “So make sure you’ve completed your ballot and you submit and let the courts and the canvassing board decide what happens.”

The opinion describes the ballot measure as misleading, partly on grounds the county did not satisfy state statutes which say local governments may not pass rent control measures unless doing so would be “necessary and proper to eliminate an existing housing emergency which is so grave as to constitute a serious menace to the general public.”

A contentious ballot initiative giving Orange County voters the chance to decide on whether to instate rent control for one year was blocked, according to a ruling filed Thursday.

In June, a consultant group hired by Orange County presented its findings about whether a housing emergency existed in the county.

The group, GAI Consultants, said that while there are significant housing issues in Central Florida, these issues also span across the country, and so they aren’t unique to Central Florida.

As such, the consultant group concluded that the situation in Orange County didn’t constitute a housing emergency and was likely beyond the ability of the county to fix.

Instead, experts said that rent control would likely drive away developers, further reducing the amount of local affordable housing and making the problem even worse.

Housing expert Dr. Owen Beitsch discussed the issue with News 6 in July, saying the problem is that there are too many people and too few homes available.

“If my recollection is correct, those numbers show that we here in Central Florida are lower than the state and lower than the rest of the country...” Beitsch said. “And our claims on those units that are being created are growing far, far faster than the inventory is capable.”

Judges toss proposed Orange County rent control ordinance as voters begin casting ballots

In a dissenting opinion, Judge Jay Cohen said the county had “presented a plethora of facts supporting its position that a housing crisis exists,” one grave enough to be considered a serious menace to the public.

“Over 80% of households in Orange County are earning at or below the average median income. Those households spend more than 30% of their household income on rent and are having difficulty affording other life necessities such as food, clothing, transportation, and medical care,” Cohen said.

The judge added around 7,000 eviction cases were filed through the first half of 2022, a 70% increase from the year prior.

“Contrary to the position taken by Realtors, these circumstances reflect more than a mere inflationary spiral,” Cohen said.

Orange County Mayor Jerry Demings released the following statement in response to the ruling:

The Florida Apartment Association, one of the plaintiffs in the lawsuit, released a statement about the ruling Friday.

The Florida Apartment Association is grateful that the 5th District Court of Appeal ruled to remove this dangerous and illegal measure from consideration on the ballot. Moving forward, we remain committed to working alongside state and local policymakers on real solutions that bolster the supply of housing and address the needs of a growing population.

Chip Tatum, executive vice president. Florida Apartment Association

Read the court filing below:

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About the Author:

Brandon, a UCF grad, joined the ClickOrlando team in November 2021. Before joining News 6, Brandon worked at WDBO.