Florida Governor Signs Preemption Legislation Impacting Tenant Protections across State

Florida Governor Ron DeSantis last month signed into law HB 1417, a controversial piece of legislation preempting local tenant protection ordinances throughout Florida. The preemption regulation would undo the work of local advocates in 35 cities and counties throughout Florida, including jurisdictions like Miami-Dade, Broward, Orange, Hillsborough, and Pinellas counties. Housing advocates are not certain how many pieces of legislation will be impacted but estimate that 46 tenant protection ordinances will be preempted, including tenants’ bill of rights ordinances, rent stabilization measures, laws strengthening the summons process, and source-of-income protections. With the preemption law now in effect, the power to address the needs of tenants will be shifted from local governments to the state. This shift has raised fears among advocates that the rights and protections previously secured by individual cities and counties may be weakened or disregarded, potentially leaving vulnerable tenants without adequate protections.

Tenant protections are passed in the form of laws and policies and aim to correct the power imbalance between renters and landlords. These laws also aim to promote housing stability, prevent harassment of renters, and end homelessness. During the pandemic, the federal government put in place some tenant protections, including the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) eviction moratorium, which helped keep 1.55 million households housed during the pandemic. While many state and local tenant protections existed prior to the pandemic, tenant protections grew exponentially during the pandemic, especially following the end of the eviction moratorium, when renters increasingly faced the threat of eviction again. Florida was one of the many states that saw local jurisdictions pass a large number of tenant protections during the pandemic, including more than 12 ordinances enacted after the onset of the pandemic.

Some of these ordinances originated in Orange County. One ordinance provided anti-discrimination protections that had not been guaranteed by state law prior to the passing of the preemption legislation. In particular, the ordinance protected renters against source-of-income discrimination, which disproportionately affects low-income households, people of color, women, and people with disabilities. Orange County also passed a fair notice ordinance requiring landlords to give tenants at least 60 days’ notice of rent hikes exceeding 5%. The Orange County Office of Tenant Services was created to enforce these ordinances but is now only able to enforce state law, including the new preemption legislation.

The bill was supported by trade groups such as Florida Realtors and Florida Apartment Association, both of which had previously sued Orange County for its rent stabilization initiative. Democrats in Florida’s state legislature tried to introduce amendments to safeguard tenants’ interests, but the Republican majority rejected all of them. However, advocates did achieve some minor victories, including the creation of a 30-day notice period for terminating month-to-month tenancies.

Facing new uncertainty about the future, some renters are turning to tenant organizing and teaming up with organizations like Florida Rising and Miami Workers Center. Jurisdictions like St. Petersburg are considering creating a new program that would offer free right to counsel to renters who are at risk for eviction. Leaders in the city are working to ensure that this program would be allowed under the new preemption legislation. Tenant organizers in St. Petersburg are also partnering with labor unions to strengthen their advocacy power. More generally, tenant organizers across the state are looking forward to continuing their work and implementing long-term solutions to housing stability.

The new state legislation is part of a series of preemption bills that critics argue will hinder local policymaking. A bill banning rent control in Florida (SB 102) has also been signed into law. In addition to the harmful bills in Florida, similar preemptions are impacting tenant rights across other states. Currently, 28 states preempt the passage of rent control policies in some way, while three states preempt the passage of source-of-income ordinances. To learn more about these preemptive bills, read NLIHC’s ERASE report, The State of Statewide Tenant Protections. NLIHC also advocates for tenant protections at the federal level. Visit NLIHC’s Take Action page to learn more about you can get involved.