A lawsuit has been filed challenging the validity of a proposed ordinance that would enact rent control in Orange County, Florida. The suit asks Circuit Judge Jeff Ashton to issue an injunction to keep the measure off the November 8 ballot.
By a slim majority, county commissioners voted August 9 to advance the proposed ordinance to the general election ballot. The measure seeks to impose a one-year cap on rent hikes for Orange County apartments at 9.8%, a percentage equal to the increase of the Consumer Price Index for urban consumers in the South for a 12-month span ending June 30.
Commissioners decided that controls are needed because of a “housing emergency so grave as to constitute a serious menace to the general public,” language required by Florida state law.
Among evidence cited for the housing emergency were statics from CoStar including:
The 94.8% housing occupancy rate in Orange County, the highest in 20 years.
An increase in the average cost of rent from $1,357 per month in June 2020 to $1,799 in June 2022.
A 70% increase in the number of eviction filings in the first half of 2022 compared to the first six months of 2021
Before filing the 105-page lawsuit for the Florida Apartment Association and Florida Realtors, Shutts & Bowen lawyers sent a memo to commissioner in June.
"It is extremely unlikely that the shortcomings of the current residential rental market in Orange County meet the stringent statutory and common law requirements to be deemed the type of dire emergency which must exist before a local government in Florida can adopt an enforceable rent control ordinance," the memo said.
Amanda White, a representative of the Florida Apartment Association, called the proposed ordinance "fundamentally flawed."
"Throughout several workshops, the association and even the county’s own hired experts pointed out the realities of Florida law and the fact that Orange County’s proposal failed to meet the high bar established under statute," she said in a statement emailed to the Orlando Sentinel.
Margy Gant, CEO of Florida Realtors, said her group has advocated for affordable housing but doesn’t support rent caps.
"Studies show that rent control has unintended consequences that can make matters worse", she said in an emailed statement. "A better solution would be to pursue public-private partnerships that result in more affordable housing units."
At this time, it is unclear whether Orange County will fight the lawsuit and whether an injunction will strike the proposed ordinance from the ballot.