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DeSantis Signs Bill to Let Landlords Charge Unlimited, Nonrefundable Fees

The bill is aimed at making “Florida into a cash cow” for corporate landlords, one housing advocate said.

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis (L) speaks with attendees during an Iowa GOP reception on May 13, 2023 in Cedar Rapids, Iowa.

Far right Gov. Ron DeSantis (R) has signed an industry-backed bill that will allow Florida landlords to charge renters a monthly nonrefundable fee in lieu of a deposit that opponents of the bill say is predatory and meant to exploit renters.

The bill, H.B. 133, places no cap on the fee — which critics have compared to junk fees — meaning that landlords could charge as much as they choose.

Though tenants technically have the option between the fee and a deposit, some Democrats in the Florida legislature have pointed out that, for many people who can’t afford an upfront deposit, which is often required with the first month’s rent, it may not feel like a choice. At the same time, however, deposits are often refundable at the end of a lease, while renters would not be able to recoup the fee.

At the same time, renters would remain on the hook for paying for repairs to the property on top of the monthly fee.

The bill closely resembles a bill drafted by corporate lobbyists, including lobbyists for LeaseLock, a California company backing similar legislation in other states. It was passed by the state legislature in April, with Republicans and some Democrats in support.

The Florida legislature has also passed a number of other anti-renter bills this session. One bill, signed by DeSantis in March, bans local governments from implementing rent control initiatives and gives tax breaks to developers who set aside affordable housing units in developments.

Another bill, H.B. 1417, would forbid local governments from implementing protections for renters that go beyond state law. This bill has not yet been signed by DeSantis.

Housing rights and progressive groups have raised concerns about H.B. 1417 and H.B. 133, saying that they would only worsen the state’s housing crisis and give power and money to corporate landlords, straight out of the public’s pockets.

Several advocacy groups, including representatives from labor unions like the Florida AFL-CIO or groups like the Florida ACLU, sent letters to DeSantis last month urging him to veto both bills. H.B. 1417 “is ripe for abuse” by corporations from outside of Florida and is meant to kill renters’ efforts to organize solutions around housing, the groups wrote. “It is extreme, unnecessary, and dangerous,” they added.

In their letter about H.B. 133, the groups wrote that charging fees is not a solution to helping renters who can’t afford to pay an upfront deposit, and will only place them further into financial insecurity. They suggest that, at the very least, the fee be paid into a deposit that could be returned at the end of the lease.

“What it very much looks like is corporate greed. It looks like turning the state of Florida into a cash cow for corporations, for corporate landlords,” Sheena Rolle, senior director of strategy for letter signatory Florida Rising, told Click Orlando.

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