Tenant groups file last-minute brief in support of Orange rent control ordinance – Orlando Sentinel

More than 30 people in favor of rent control gathered outside the Orange County Administration building for a rally and to show support in Orlando, Fla., Tuesday, Aug. 9, 2022. (Willie J. Allen Jr./Orlando Sentinel)
Two nonprofit groups representing working-class, rent-burdened tenants in Orange County filed a last-minute brief late Wednesday, hoping to persuade a judge to let voters decide whether to adopt a proposed ordinance limiting rent increases for a year.
Filed electronically about midnight, the 35-page brief by lawyers for Florida Rising and Central Florida Jobs with Justice blamed “profiteering” landlords for the county’s housing emergency that has forced many families to choose between paying rent or buying groceries.
The filing cited rising evictions and unsworn testimony of residents who lobbied Orange County commissioners to cap rent.
Circuit Judge Jeff Ashton likely will issue a ruling Thursday on a request filed last month by the Florida Apartment Association and the Florida Realtors to pull the proposed ordinance off the Nov. 8 ballot or block its enforcement if approved. They argue it’s unlawful.
Landlords contend rent controls have “unintended consequences” that discourage development of affordable housing.
Ashton presided over an evidentiary hearing Sept. 9 during which he listened to about five hours of testimony, including conclusions of Owen Beitsch, part of a consulting team hired to perform a quick study of the county’s housing crisis for commissioners.
He blamed a housing shortage, a growing population and the COVID-19 pandemic for exacerbating the problem.
Beitsch, who works for GAI Consultant of Orlando which was paid $60,000 for its work, pointed out that a 1977 state law makes it difficult for a local government to interfere with rental markets. The law requires proof that a housing emergency exists and controls will fix it.
Such a measure, if adopted, can only be in effect for a year unless voters approve it a second time.
The nonprofits’ brief supplemented arguments in support of commissioners who voted 4-3 to put the ordinance on the ballot.
If the proposed ordinance survives the landlord legal challenge and voters approve it, the measure would cap rent hikes for potentially 104,000 apartments at 9.8%, a percentage equal to the increase of the Consumer Price Index for urban consumers in the South.
It also would be the first successful effort at rent control in Florida in nearly half a century.
Florida Rising identified itself in the filing as a nonprofit organization of “primarily working-class, Black and Brown voters who would be at imminent risk of increased rents leading to displacement and homelessness” if the rent-cap rule was nullified by the judge’s ruling.
The document described excessive rent increases as “a racial issue” that disproportionately affects minorities.
The filing argues ”overwhelming evidence” underscores the housing emergency in Orange County.
Tenant lawyers said the brief was intended to give the judge an “understanding of the full breadth of information presented to the Orange County Commission regarding how the current housing emergency not only impacts tenants directly, but further constitutes a serious menace to the general public.”
But lawyers relied mostly on personal stories of tenants struggling to afford rent. Many previously appealed to commissioners.
“In the last few months my rent has been raised $200 and in the next few months it can go up more,” Annie Sierra, a Disney employee, told the board in July. “I had to choose whether to pay my car, feed my children or pay my rent.” She said she gave up her vehicle.
Copyright © 2022, Orlando Sentinel
Copyright © 2022, Orlando Sentinel


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