House passes renter fee proposal
By Jim Saunders
News Service of Florida
In an issue shadowed by soaring rental costs across the state, the House passed a heavily debated bill that could lead to landlords collecting monthly fees instead of security deposits from renters.
The House voted 89-22 to approve the bill (HB 133), which supporters said would provide an option to help renters get into apartments without having to come up with potentially thousands of dollars in upfront money.
But opponents said the fees would not be capped and that renters wouldn’t be able to eventually recoup the money, like they might with security deposits.
“This is a poor tax, plain as day,” said Rep. Angie Nixon, D-Jacksonville.
Supporters disputed such characterizations, saying the fees would be optional for landlords and renters. Bill sponsor Jim Mooney, R-Islamorada, also said such fee arrangements are already being used and that the bill would place “guardrails” on the practice.
“This is not a tax on the poor,” Rep. Tiffany Esposito, R-Fort Myers, said. “This is an option for them, for everyone to have access to housing.”
A similar Senate bill (SB 494) was approved last Wednesday by the Rules Committee and is ready to go to the full Senate.
Under the bill, 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 who choose fees could subsequently decide to pay security deposits and end the fees.
Based on other areas where fees are used, Mooney said a renter would pay an average $25 monthly fee on a $1,500-a-month lease. Landlords could use the money to buy a type of insurance that would help pay for damage to units.
But renters would not be able to get the fees back after they move out and could be held responsible for damage, Nixon said. She likened the fees to payday loans and described them as “perpetual junk fees.”
“This bill targets low-income, working-class people, period,” Nixon said.
But Robin Bartleman, a Weston Democrat who supported the bill, described a childhood experience of her mother struggling to scrape together money for a security deposit.
“This (the proposed fees) is a choice. This is an option for someone,” Bartleman said. “The fee’s capped when you sign that dotted line.”
Mooney pushed back against the “junk free” description, calling it “nonsense.”
Before passing the bill, the House approved an amendment that would allow landlords and renters to agree on installment plans to pay security deposits.