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Florida bill handing local control of tenant laws to state poised to pass Senate

The bill passed the House on Wednesday. Critics said the bill favors landlords more than tenants.

ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. — Counties and cities like Tampa and St. Petersburg have passed their own local tenant bill of rights. 

They received more attention during the start of the COVID-19 pandemic due to eviction risks and as rent prices remain high. But the majority of Florida lawmakers want to scrap those arguing a proposed state law would be better for all.

A Republican proposed bill would allow the state housing regulations to pre-empt local housing tenant bill of rights ordinances. It passed the House, and the Senate is expected to approve it on Friday.

House bill co-sponsor Rep. Tiffany Esposito (R-Fort Myers) said less government control and regulations on landlords will help solve the issue of affordable housing.

"Capitalism and the free market will solve our housing crisis if we get the government out of the way," Esposito said on the House floor Wednesday.

However, some organizations argue the intention to help tenants is not true. 

"The landlords aren't out here making choices between feeding their kids and paying rent. It's us the tenants who are facing it. It is a disproportionate impact," William Kilgore of the St. Pete Tenants Union voiced.

Kilgore said among his concerns include local protections against income discrimination. For instance, against those with Section 8 vouchers. 

The bill has provisions like forcing Florida landlords to give a 30-day notice, instead of the current 15 days, to terminate a tenant's month-to-month lease.

Leases that are longer would require between 30 to 60 days. 

A similar version in the Senate would also require landlords to give a 60-day notice for a 5 percent rent increase or more. 

While organizers agree with extending the timeframes of the rules, they said it's just a "sliver" of the protections the state should be providing. 

"When we truly think about the impact it'll have on the renters, it's extremely concerning," Cynthia Laurent, Florida Rising housing justice campaigner, said.

Organizers said the state is lacking in protections for habitability and repair issues or non-discrimination clauses, which currently exist in local ordinances like the one in St. Pete. 

"This is a situation that's impacting people from all walks of life," Laurent explained.

The law would nullify dozens of cities and counties with their own local ordinances like Orange and Miami-Dade counties. 

Recently, some Democrats and organizers also criticized the passage of another housing-related bill into law. 

The Live Local Act is intended to increase access to affordable housing through a $711 million plan but also bans rent control, a practice that was already forbidden under Florida law unless an official housing emergency was declared. Now, it's a total ban. 

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