Orange County officials approve tenant bill of rights
ORANGE COUNTY, Fla. —
On Tuesday, leaders in Orange County approved a measure increasing protections for renters. County commissioners unanimously passed the tenant bill of rights.
It’s different from the rent control plan voters supported in November but was struck down by a judge.
With that, Orange County commissioners adopted an ordinance and a specific office of tenant services to help tenants work with landlords.
“Think about it like this, if you’re in an apartment and your landlord isn’t fixing something, you just don’t pay your rent, it will help educate them, saying, ‘hey, I need to provide notice.’ And so, I think providing a resource and education to people who may not know how to advocate for themselves,” said Orange County Commissioner Michael Scott of District 6.
According to chief planner Amy Michaels, Orange County will become the second county in Florida to create a dedicated office designed to help tenants work with landlords after Miami-Dade County.
The last time leaders looked at the tenant bill of rights was in November. Since then, there have been three main changes that commissioners approved on Tuesday:
- Orange County is requiring landlords to provide a list of all the fees renters have to pay upfront. Those fees can not be changed during the duration of the lease.
- Orange County is banning landlords from discriminating against people based on where their rent money is coming from as long as it is legal, and that includes Section 8 vouchers.
- Orange County is banning landlords from discriminating against renters who are victims of domestic violence, dating violence or stalking.
The tenant bill of rights will be enforced through civil citation. The county is going to get to work setting up the new office immediately.
“We found a lot of the residents in Orange County did not know what their legal rights were under Florida law. So this is going to give them a place to contact and we’ll be able to explain what their rights are and try to assist them with resources that we can provide for them,” Michaels said.
The new county office will open on March 1 and will start off with four employees.
Michaels described it as a “one-stop shop for tenants and landlords” because the county will provide services to both.
“We’ll be able to provide services such as if they need rental assistance, if they need any type of education, legal assistance. We have our partner Legal Aid Society. We are contracted with them so if they’re in the eviction process, we’ll be able to refer them over to Legal Aid Society for assistance,” she said. “But the main purpose is going to be outreach and education. We need to get to the residents and the citizens before they get to the eviction process.”
Michaels added that they want renters to know they can call for help once the office opens.
“They don’t need to be afraid to call us. If there are issues with building maintenance. Any type of violation of the lease or the laws, they can contact us and we can do the investigations for that,” she said.
Cynthia Lawrence is with Florida Rising, a statewide voting rights and grassroots organizing group.
“We just want to thank you so much for the tenant bill of rights,” Lawrence said. “We know it was a lot of hard work. A lot of conversations and we’re just grateful that this is actually going to be enacted today.”
“The only piece that was a little bit open that we wanted to close the loop on was to ensure that the tenant advocacy office actually speaks in Spanish and in French Creole,” Ericka Gomez-Tejeda of the nonprofit Hablamos Español Florida said.
She contends it was only a verbal commitment but the county said staffers will find services to help, no matter the ethnicity.
The tenant bill of rights will be enforced through civil citations.
Source: WESH 2 News