Orange County rent control referendum has commissioners’ support

ORANGE COUNTY, Fla. — Four of Orange County’s commissioners indicated they’d support a rent control initiative on November’s ballot, providing a movement that began as a fleeting discussion on forums like Reddit with enough support to continue forward.


The four unofficial votes happened at the end of a marathon discussion on housing affordability Tuesday, which many condiser the area’s most critical problem after rents soared 25% last year.

“My rent increased by 77%,” Diana Geary said. “This may be the last year that I live in Orange County.”

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In its current form, the rent control — or rent stabilization — proposal would cap rate increases at 5% next year, or approximately $85 for the average one-bedroom apartment. It would apply to landlords who owned more than four units, except ones who own so-called “luxury” housing.

A court battle would likely emerge over the luxury housing clause, though, because the state’s definition of it hasn’t kept pace with the cost of housing over the decades.

Commissioner Emily Bonilla was the proposal’s primary backer. She sounded frustrated by the hours of public comments, including those from many property owners who said they wanted to find other ways to solve the crisis.

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“If the industry wants to help out like they really do, the first thing they can do is stop raising rents,” she said. “They don’t want to help. They want to make more money.”

Three other commissioners agreed with her, including Commissioner Maribel Gomez Cordero; Commissioner Nicole Wilson, who took issue with a consultant’s report characterizing the speed of the rent increases as “expected;” and Commissioner Mayra Uribe, who said 120 of 600 students in one of her district’s schools were homeless.

Commissioner Christine Moore was more hesitant.

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“I would not favor the rent stabilization ordinance, because I don’t think it works,” she said. “I don’t think it would pass legal muster.”

The consultant’s report said cost of living increases were a complex result of supply and demand and likely out of the county government’s control. Approximately one unit of housing is built for every two families that move into the county each year, data shows, forcing many lower-income tenants to live in run-down motel rooms, extended-stay facilities and their cars.

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County commissioners showed interest in putting initiatives to deal with the housing shortage, other than rent control, on the ballot as well or in a future ordinance. Some possibilities include a tenant’s bill of rights or a required 60-day notice period for rent increases, neither of which is currently required for many units.

Commissioners said they would call a special meeting to hammer out the details of the ballot initiative, including any changes or additions to the current plan, and hold a vote. They’re competing against the clock, however. Any initiative needs to be approved by July in order to get to voters in the fall.

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