An appellate court is ruling a rent control referendum in Orange County should have been tossed from the ballot.
An opinion from Florida’s 5th District Court of Appeal said the rent control ordinance appearing on the General Election ballot violates Florida’s Constitution.
“Florida counties that operate under county charters — like the one in this case — have the power of self-government,” the opinion reads. “But the Florida Constitution limits this power. For example, local governments cannot pass an ordinance that is inconsistent with general and special laws enacted by the Florida Legislature. Such an ordinance, by its nature, would be unconstitutional.”
The decision reverses a circuit court ruling last month saying challenges against the ordinance may well prove successful, but a vote on the referendum should still take place.
The appellate opinion says that was a mistake. A vote should not take place on an “unconstitutional ordinance described by a misleading ballot summary.”
The greatest concern, the opinion determines, is a 1977 law still on the books that says Florida counties cannot impose rent control measures except under narrow circumstances and which do not have excessive exemptions. The court determined the Orange County proposal does not meet those thresholds.
While the appellate court reverses the lower court decision, the measure already appears on ballots already printed. In fact as of Oct. 28, the day the appellate opinion was published, 112,009 Orange County voters had already voted by mail or through early voting, according to Fresh Take Florida.
The court ordered an injunction regarding the referendum but did not state explicitly how the Orange County Supervisor of Elections, a defendant in a lawsuit brought by Florida Realtors and the Florida Apartment Association, should deal with the decision.
“We anticipate at a minimum, however, that the results of the ballot initiative will not be certified,” the opinion states.
The opinion was written by Appellate Judge Dan Traver, an appointee of Gov. Ron DeSantis, with a concurrence from Appellate Judge Meredith Sasso, one of former Gov. Rick Scott’s final appointments to the bench.
But Appellate Judge Jay Cohen, an appointee of former Gov. Charlie Crist, dissented.
“The County presented a plethora of facts supporting its position that a housing crisis exists in Orange County, an emergency so grave as to constitute a serious menace to the general public,” the dissent reads. “For the most part, Realtors did not dispute those facts. As a result, our review should be limited to whether those facts are sufficient to fulfill the statutory requirements.”
Supporters of the rent control proposal grimaced at the decision.
Rep. Anna Eskamani, an Orlando Democrat who has supported the measure, said it’s “frustrating that as Floridians here in Orange County face exorbitant rent increases and a housing crisis that those who are profiting off the crisis are getting in the way of voters’ voices being heard.”
But plaintiffs in the lawsuit praised the decision.
“The Florida Apartment Association is grateful that the 5th District Court of Appeal ruled to remove this dangerous and illegal measure from consideration on the ballot,” reads a statement from Chip Tatum, executive vice president of the Florida Apartment Association. “Moving forward, we remain committed to working alongside state and local policymakers on real solutions that bolster the supply of housing and address the needs of a growing population.”