Orange County rent control case turned away by Florida Supreme Court

Voter-approved charter amendment will not go into effect

The front exterior of the Florida Supreme Court Building in Tallahassee, Florida, in 2011. (Wikimedia Commons/ShareAlike 3.0)

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. – Orange County’s rent control amendment, approved by the voters last November, will not go into effect.

The Florida Supreme Court declined to take up the case Monday between the county government, which put the charter amendment on the ballot, and the Florida Association of Realtors and Florida Apartments Association, which challenged the measure on the grounds that it violated a 1977 Florida law regarding rent control.

An appeals court last year found the charter amendment violated that law because it did not meet the qualifications to deem the county’s affordable housing situation as an “existing housing emergency.”

The county appealed the decision to the state supreme court, but a majority of justices chose to refuse to hear the case, while only one would have allowed for oral arguments.

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The Orange County rent control amendment had a fraught history. The rent stabilization ordinance passed in the Orange County Commission on a 4-to-3 vote last August, putting it before voters in the November 2022 election.

It sought to cap rent increases at 5% or the rate of inflation, whichever was less.

Orange County Mayor Jerry Demings, who voted against the measure, had said he had concerns about the legality of the measure because the state law set such a high bar. He also felt there were other things the county could do to address the affordable housing crisis.

But commissioners who supported the measure, including sponsor Commissioner Emily Bonilla, said research showed rent increases skyrocketed in 2021 and 2022.

“If you look at the evictions, the number of children and families living on the streets, the rent increases, we have seen an extraordinary jump in those numbers,” said Bonilla at a June 2022 meeting. “This rent cap will provide an immediate solution to the problem.”

However, a consultant hired by the county stated that the measure could do more harm than good, potentially making affordable housing even more difficult to find.

“I think the appropriate statement is that rent controls really don’t work anywhere,” UCF Professor Dr. Owen Beitsch said. “They do represent a very visible policy and political action... However, it’s a flawed policy because, again, there’s a rule that it doesn’t really accomplish much — it tends to discourage further investment in this marketplace.”

The ordinance received immediate pushback from the Florida Association of Realtors and the Florida Apartments Association, which sued to take the amendment off the ballot. In October an appeals court sided with the industry groups, and a lower court judge ruled that the charter amendment could stay on the ballot, but would be enjoined and not certified until the measure worked its way through the courts.

That allowed the measure to stay on the ballot, and 59% of voters in Orange County approved the amendment.

Last month Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis signed into law a bill by the Florida Legislature that offered a number of policy changes regarding affordable housing. It also pre-empted any local law that allowed rent control.

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Christie joined the ClickOrlando team in November 2021.