ORLANDO, Fla. – The debate over a controversial rent control ordinance in Orange County was back in front of a circuit court judge Thursday morning, one week after an appeals court ruled the measure should not be on the November ballot.
With early voting already underway, Judge Jeff Ashton of the Ninth Judicial Circuit Court issued a temporary injunction. The action keeps the referendum on the ballot but directs the supervisor of elections and canvassing board to not certify the results of the contest.
“I think the better choice is simply to enjoin the certification of the results, and that will in essence freeze the proceedings,” said Judge Ashton.
Orange County Supervisor of Elections Bill Cowles released the following statement in response to the Court’s decision Thursday afternoon:
“Judge Ashton’s ruling was consistent with the appellate ruling making clear that the results of this contest will not be certified. We will comply and continue to administrate this election as scheduled. No new ballots will be printed and current ballots will not be altered. Voters should continue to vote on all election contests on their ballot.”
A spokesperson for Cowles tells News 6 the bottom line for voters is that they should continue to vote on all contests on their ballots.
The problem is Cowles had to send ballots out for military and overseas voters by Sept. 24. It is not feasible to try and send out a new ballot now, Cowles said.
“The history is very clear that once the ballot is the ballot and it’s out, you don’t pull it back in and start over,” said Cowles.
The referendum sought to cap rent increases of 5% or the rate of inflation, whichever is less.
Lawsuits from the Florida Association of Realtors and Florida Apartment Association called the measure unconstitutional. FAA Vice President Chip Tatum shared the following statement Thursday:
“The Appeals Court has denied Orange County’s motion for rehearing. This is proof positive that the County Commission should never have placed this flawed and unconstitutional measure before voters in the first place. Now, the real work of addressing the region’s housing shortages can begin in earnest. The Florida Apartment Association looks forward to working alongside state and local policymakers on tangible solutions to expand the attainability of housing for current and future Floridians.”
Orange County’s attorneys pointed out during Thursday’s hearing that the injunction is temporary.
“There are more proceedings. There are other courts,” said Greg Stewart. “Let me represent to the court that we are reviewing other possible avenues of appeal. No decision has been made, but that is something that is being considered.”
News 6 reached out to the county before and after the temporary injunction was issued Thursday, asking if they could share any insight into their next steps. A spokesperson said, “there is no further comment at this junction from our offices.”
The county has less than 30 days to file a notice of intent to appeal up to the Florida Supreme Court. If they decide to file, that will likely not happen until after the election.
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