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Tallahassee — Legislation headed for Governor Crist’s desk would hit renters hard with exorbitant fees and place dwindling affordable housing out of reach for many renters. Statewide organizations representing tenants and consumers say that the Governor, a renter himself, should veto this bill to protect tenants who would have to pay an extra penalty equaling up to two months rent, in addition to any unpaid rent, or other fees if they leave a lease due to unforeseen circumstances.
“Sometimes people have to leave an apartment because the landlord just won’t make repairs, the complex isn’t safe anymore or they may even have to move for a job or military service. These people shouldn’t have to pay extra when the landlords have people waiting to move in and pay the same amount. It’s just not fair that the landlord should make money while the tenant has to come with $2,000 out of pocket,” said Beverly Campbell, an Orlando ACORN member and renter.
HB 1277 allows landlords to put a clause in the lease that requires tenants to pay up to 2 months rent if they break the lease early. It also allows them to collect fees from concessions originally offered to the tenant. For example, if an apartment complex offers the first month at 50% off, the tenant would also have to pay that amount upon leaving. If an average monthly rent is set at $1,000, a tenant would have to pay up to $2,500 to break their lease, even if the landlord has already found a new tenant. Under existing laws around the country a landlord is not permitted to collect rent from two tenants for the same space, as this amount to penalty charges due the landlord.
The main backers of this legislation, the Florida Apartment Association, claim that the bill helps renters who break a lease before 2 months are up, by requiring them only to pay the 2 months instead of the remainder of the lease. However, advocates point out that if HB 1277 becomes law, landlords with high occupancy rates will insert these 2 month penalty fee clauses into their lease which will allow them to collect double rent on the same space, while landlords with a low occupancy rates will take a risk on opting for actual damages.
“This legislation is a radical departure from landlord-tenant law in this country. It would allow landlords to collect statutory set penalties for breach of a private contract against the tenant regardless of the landlord's actual damages. The Legislature has no constitutional authority to give the landlords such a windfall penalty while denying the tenant a similar right,” said Rod Tennyson a renter’s rights lawyer in Palm Beach County.
“Renters have very little choice if they want to lease an apartment in today’s tight market. They either accept what is presented to them in the contract or they can’t get the unit. Many don’t forsee breaking a lease if they find a home to buy or have to move due to external circumstances such as a natural disaster or job changes. Under this legislation, landlords make a windfall by charging both the old and new tenant, however a renter receives nothing if the landlord breaches their contract,” said Brad Ashwell, a consumer advocate for Florida PIRG. This law is extremely one-sided and is designed to benefit landlords while penalizing tenants, added Ashwell.
Advocates estimate that there are close to 4.5 million renters that would be subject to this legislation. According to the Florida Apartment Association, on average about 10% of renters terminate their leases early every year. This amounts to 450,000 tenants who pay an average monthly rent of $1,000. Considering these figures, landlords stand to gain $900 million from this legislation annually. Florida renters, low and moderate income families, can not afford to pay these fees. They are relying on the Governor to protect them with a veto.
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