Proposed bill could have Florida renters paying monthly fees instead of security deposits

(Mary Stringini)

As Florida grapples with affordable-housing problems, lawmakers started moving forward Thursday with a proposal that could lead to renters paying non-refundable monthly fees instead of security deposits.

The House Civil Justice Subcommittee voted 13-4 to approve the bill (HB 133), with supporters saying it would provide an option to renters who might not be able to afford security deposits that can stretch into thousands of dollars.

"All this bill does is give them more flexibility in being able to choose their housing options for their family," Rep. Dean Black, R-Jacksonville, said.

But critics said the bill would not cap potential fees and that renters would not recoup the money when they move out — like they can with security deposits.

"This would effectively function as a poor tax during a time when Floridians are struggling more than ever to afford their increasing rents," said Jackson Oberlink, a lobbyist for the group Florida Rising.

The House passed a similar bill last year, but the measure did not get through Senate committees. The new bill, sponsored by Rep. Jim Mooney, R-Islamorada, is filed for the legislative session that will start March 7.

All of the House panel’s Republicans and Rep. Kimberly Daniels, D-Jacksonville, supported the bill Thursday. Four Democrats — Rep. Kristen Arrington of Kissimmee, Rep. Daryl Campbell of Fort Lauderdale, Rep. Ashley Gantt of Miami and Rep. Johanna Lopez of Orlando — opposed it.

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The bill would apply to rental agreements that require security deposits. In such situations, landlords would be able to offer the option of paying monthly fees instead of security deposits, though landlords would not be required to do so. Renters would decide whether to pay the fees or deposits.

Also, renters could subsequently decide to pay a security deposit and stop paying the fees, Mooney said.

"This is just an option to get in the front door initially," Mooney said.

LeaseLock, a company that provides insurance to landlords against unpaid rent and tenant damages, is lobbying for the bill. Jon Potter, a representative of LeaseLock, told House members that based on national averages, a tenant who pays $1,500 a month in rent would pay a monthly fee of $25.

"Thousands of tenants have moved into their apartments by paying $1,525 instead of $3,000 or $4,500," Potter said.

But Gantt, who said she is a renter and faced difficulty in finding housing, said the bill does not include a limit on fees.

"My concern with the bill is that landlords don’t have any type of guidance with what the fee could be," Gantt said.