As rents skyrocket across South Florida, NBC 6 Investigators heard from dozens of viewers wondering in our online survey why local officials weren’t trying to implement rent controls in the area. Although Florida law is stacked against them, Miami-Dade County commissioners are considering studying the issue.
Florida law largely prohibits rent controls unless there’s a “housing emergency.” Some on the Miami-Dade Board of County Commissioners are beginning to explore that option. Thursday morning they took their first step, but housing advocates have a long and tough road ahead.
“Everybody is talking about it. So why not us?” asked Commissioner Jean Monestime.
In a 3-2 vote, the Miami-Dade Public Housing and Community Services Committee passed a measure by Commissioner Kionne McGhee directing Mayor Daniella Levine Cava’s office to study the housing situation in the county. The full county board of commissioners will take up the measure in April.
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If approved, a final report will determine if Miami-Dade is in a “housing emergency” within 180 days. Commissioners could then use those facts to pass a rent control measure, which would have to be approved by voters on the November ballot to take effect in 2023.
Florida law allows landlords to raise rents on homeowners however they see fit and what the free market will bear. After an initial court battle in the 1970s between landlords and Miami Beach, NBC 6 Investigators found no successful implementation of rent control in Florida.
The latest attempt was in St. Petersburg in February, but city officials decided against it because Florida law tilts against them in court.
Even after they declare a housing emergency, voters must approve the measure in a referendum. The rent control limits would only be in effect for one year and a somewhat vague part of the law would exempt apartments with an average rent of $250 per month in 1977 dollars, around $1,200 if adjusted for inflation, depending on the reading of the law.
Suzanne Hollander, real estate law professor at Florida International University says before enacting rent control the government would have to gather facts which they could then use in court such as: the amount of people paying more than 30% of their salary in rent, the amount of evictions, or the amount of homelessness.
"The burden of evidence is on the county or municipality trying to enact it," said Hollander.
Hollander tells NBC 6 the most common way for local governments to tackle affordability without violating the Florida law is to fund construction of more affordable housing units because capping rents is an uphill battle in court.
Rent control ordinances are rather rare in the United States. Only a handful of states allow them such as Maryland, Maine, Washington D.C., California, New York, and Oregon, according to the National Multifamily Housing Council.
Most states severely limit rent control ordinances if they don’t ban them outright.
Despite the uphill battle, Miami-Dade County commissioners will explore the issue.
“I don’t think anyone on this board would disagree that this is a housing emergency,” Commissioner Joe Martinez said, while voting against the study because he fears a rent control mandate would encourage landlords to quickly raise rents to get ahead of the government action.
“We must discuss it. I say must because in every single living room this is an item that is being discussed,” Commissioner Jean Monestime.
Levine Cava expressed support for the study at an earlier rally for tenant’s rights.
Multiple attempts to repeal the Florida law limiting rent control have failed in the Florida legislature. The most recent attempt was this legislative session, Senate Bill 580 by Sen. Victor Torres. The bill never made it to the floor for a vote.
The three most powerful people in the state legislature are Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, Senate President Wilton Simpson, and Speaker of the House Chris Sprowls. The governor’s office tells NBC 6 he has not yet taken a position on the policy. The Speaker of the House’s office did not return a request for comment. Senate President Simpson has supported more money for affordable housing programs but his office did not return a comment on the specific issue of rent control.