Orange County’s rent control ordinance defeated in court

Orange County’s rent control ordinance defeated in court

2022-10-31T13:09:58-04:00October 31st, 2022|Construction, Economy, Orlando, Real Estate|

Writer: Joshua Andino

2 min read October 2022 — Orlando’s rent control ordinance was ruled unconstitutional late last week, even as rents continue to climb and some ballots on the ordinance have already been cast prior to the Nov. 8 midterm elections.

Rents across the state of Florida have risen to a point that many residents consider untenable. In response, Orange County officials approved in August a rent control ordinance for voters to decide upon Nov. 8, which was quickly challenged in court. While the ordinance survived an initial challenge, with County Judge Jeffrey Ashton ruling against an injunction that would have prevented the ordinance from appearing on the ballot, the ruling has since been overturned by the Florida Fifth District Court of Appeals. 

“The trial court correctly concluded that the Association had a substantial likelihood of success on the merits of its two-pronged challenge to the County’s rent control ordinance and the corresponding ballot summary. But it erred by allowing the matter to remain on the ballot for the people of Orange County to vote on an unconstitutional ordinance described by a misleading ballot summary. We therefore reverse the trial court’s denial of the Association’s motion for temporary injunction and remand this matter for its immediate entry,” read the Court’s decision, available in full here.opens PDF file

When the ordinance was first passed in August, even those who were in favor of finding solutions to Orlando’s increasingly unaffordable rents were wary of the resolution, and were quick to note it would face legal challenges. Mayor Jerry Demings, who voted no at the time, was in favor of a more comprehensive approach to provide affordable and workforce housing, increasing the overall supply, telling Invest: Greater Orlando 2022 earlier this year that, “We want to build workforce housing… to mitigate long commutes and reduce traffic. Our housing trust fund will help fund these investments and keep rents down for low-income wage earners in our community.“

In a dissenting opinion, Judge Jay Cohen wrote, “The County presented a plethora of facts supporting its position that a housing crisis exists in Orange County, an emergency so grave as to constitute a serious menace to the general public. § 125.0103(2), (5)(b), Fla. Stat. For the most part, Realtors did not dispute those facts.” He continued, “More and more residents in Orange County are unable to afford even the most basic housing, resulting in a dramatic increase in evictions: through the first half of 2022, there have been nearly 7,000 eviction cases filed, representing a 70% increase when compared to the same time frame in 2021. Contrary to the position taken by Realtors, these circumstances reflect more than a mere inflationary spiral.”

Judge Cohen also noted that a growing proportion of the county’s residents had become renters, even as the median home sales price had climbed 43% while 80% of county residents were earning at or below the area median income, which the Census pegged at $61,416, while per capita was only $31,409 in 2020. While wage growth has increased over the last few years, it has been far exceeded by the cost of rent over the last few decades.

Opponents of the measure are quick to point out that rent control tends to adversely affect the overall supply of housing, disincentivizing further development and reducing the overall supply of housing. In St. Paul, Minnesota, where a rent-control policy made national headlines, developers have essentially ceased construction and paused projects while aspects of the policy are walked back. Others argue that it creates a privileged renter class, who refuse to move out or relocate from rent-stabilized housing and apartments and essentially kicking the problem to those who fall outside of rent-controlled jurisdiction

Florida law preempts local communities from implementing rent control. For rent control or stabilization policies to be implemented, not only must local officials demonstrate that there is a housing emergency, but that the rent control can only be implemented for the course of a single year and requires a second vote to be held should proponents want to extend the controls. While some areas of the state have moved forward with declaring a housing emergency, most notably Miami-Dade County, Orange County has not made a similar declaration. 

“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,” said FAA Executive Vice President Chip Tatum in a statement

While ballots have already been cast, with early voting having begun in Orange County last Monday, Bill Cowles, the Orange County Supervisor of Elections, said people should still fill out 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 to 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.” 

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