OLDSMAR, Fla. — Charles Sorensen is almost at a breaking point. Finding and maintaining affordable housing has been a constant struggle, as rents rise at steep rates in Tampa Bay and across Florida.
“I work as hard as I can. I get the best job that I can that pays the most money. I live in the buildings that cost the least, and I still have $0 in savings,” he said. “If this rent goes up after my lease, I’m going to be homeless.”
Recently, a steep rent increase forced the electrician from his St. Petersburg home. He said it was hard enough to find a new, affordable place to live, and it was even harder to find the money for the security deposit to secure his new apartment home Oldsmar.
“I had to give up every dime I had in the bank to move into here,” he said.
Sen. Jim Boyd, a Republican who represents Manatee County and a portion of southern Hillsborough County, hears the same heart-breaking story from other renters too: security deposits are already expensive and the costs continue to rise as rent prices climb.
“In lots of cases…you’re paying first and last month’s rent and usually at least the amount of the rent in addition for a security deposit,” Boyd explained.
If passed, a bill he filed would allow landlords to give renters another option. They would have the choice to pay a smaller, non-refundable monthly fee instead of a larger, typically-refundable security deposit.
“You know, I think the average in Florida on the fee is like $25 a month, and the average security deposit is $1,500 or so,” Boyd said. “I hear people a lot say, ‘Gosh, I just can’t afford to come up with all this money at once.’”
The proposal faced some opposition from renters, activists, and other senators during a Wednesday morning committee hearing but ultimately received a favorable vote from the Senate Committee on Community Affairs.
In a January committee hearing, the bill received another favorable vote down party lines. Two Democrats, however, voiced concerns and argued the bill doesn’t include adequate protections for renters.
Sen. Tina Scott Polsky (D-Palm Beach) said she’s concerned because the monthly fees would be non-refundable. Sen. Audrey Gibson (D-Duval) compared the measure to a “poor tax.” Both did say they believe the bill is well-intentioned and hope to work out their differences with Boyd.
Sorensen, meanwhile, isn’t convinced by the effort either.
“More bills are not going to solve my problem,” he said.
Sorensen is in favor of larger, more sweeping reforms that would make housing more affordable and attack the root causes of the current housing crisis.
Boyd agrees his bill isn’t a cure-all.
“It’s not going to fix the housing crisis,” he said.
However, he believes his bill addressing security deposits, if passed, would help plenty of people get into homes they might not have otherwise by offering the optional alternative.
Additionally, the bill would allow tenants who agree to the monthly fee option to change their minds and, at any point, pay their security deposits instead.
“It’s not a Republican or a Democrat issue. It’s a Floridian issue that this is something we can do to try to help those that need a hand in getting, you know, squared away in housing that they can afford,” Boyd said.
He said about 100 properties across the state already offer such an option. If passed, his bill could help spread the practice while setting legal parameters for participating landlords and renters.