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Appeal Court Halts Orange County Rent Control

The court reversed a lower court decision about a rent-control ballot measure opposed by Florida Realtors. The court focused on the definition of “housing emergency.”

DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. – Florida’s Fifth District Court of Appeal reversed a lower court’s ruling about stopping an Orange County ballot initiative on rent control in the metro area. It’s a win for Florida Realtors® and the Florida Apartment Association (FAA), which opposed Orange County in court.

Had the lower court’s ruling not been reversed, Orange County voters would have been given an opportunity to approve rent control measures for a limited number of homes in their county, pending approval by area voters in the upcoming election.

The State of Florida has a statute that limits local governments’ ability to impose rent control, however, and the court’s majority found it unlikely Orange County would prevail in a court trial. As a result, it issued the reversal, stopping the initiative. Since ballots have already been printed, however, local voters will still see the question on their Nov. 6 ballots.

“Florida Realtors is pleased that the Fifth Circuit DCA reversed the lower court's ruling and recognized that this proposal is unconstitutional and misleading,” says Margy Grant, CEO of Florida Realtors. “Years ago, the Florida Legislature passed a state law that clearly laid out what a municipality needs to place a rent control measure on the ballot, and that standard was not met. We appreciate the judge’s decision and the immediate reversal. Studies show that rent control has unintended consequences that can make issues worse.”

What is a “housing emergency”?

The court’s 34-page opinion focused heavily on the definition of a housing “emergency,” which is a mandatory prerequisite under Florida law if a local government wants to impose rent control. The law does not offer a clear definition of “emergency,” however, leaving it up to the courts to decide.

The Fifth Court of Appeal cited previous cases to answer the question. In a Miami case, a court ruled that “[a]n increase in the cost of living (an inflationary spiral) alone is not a justification for rent control legislation, which limits the amount of rent which a tenant may be required to pay.” The court said it assumed the current Orange County case “carried a similar meaning.”

It decided that an “emergency” must be “sudden or unexpected, creating a temporary condition necessitating immediate or quick action.”

What is a “serious menace to the general public”?

Even if Orange County could prove an “emergency,” the court said, Florida law also requires the rent problem to be “so grave as to constitute a serious menace to the general public.” Citing an earlier U.S. Supreme Court decision, the appeal court said “menace” is one impacting “the health, morality, comfort, and even to the peace of a large part of the people of the state.”

“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,” says FAA Executive Vice President Chip Tatum. “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.”

It’s unclear what will happen as Orange County voters head to the polls. Judges say they “considered the Supervisor of Elections’ arguments about his options, given the timing of the ruling and the upcoming election, but, “We decline to dictate precisely how the Supervisor of Elections should effectuate the relief.”

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