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'Let's shake up that tree': Tampa City Council ready to act on rent control despite likely legal fight

In a Thursday meeting, city council could advance a plan to declare a housing state of emergency and allow Nov. voters to approve rent control
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Posted at 8:12 AM, Aug 04, 2022
and last updated 2022-08-04 08:21:43-04

TAMPA, Fla. — Getulio Gonzalez-Mulattieri, a student at Hillsborough Community College, is in the same predicament many other renters are in right now. Rising rent combined with higher prices for groceries and gas have put him on shaky financial ground.

“My rent went up around $300-400,” he said. “After the increase in rent rates, you know, I’m back to paycheck to paycheck.”

Thursday, Gonzalez-Mulattieri, who’s also an organizer with the environmental movement Chispa Florida, will be one of many watching Tampa City Council.

Council members are poised to take a big step and become one of the first local governments in Florida to pursue rent control.

If passed, a plan introduced by Councilman Orlando Gudes in a meeting last week would declare a housing "State of Emergency" and then place a measure on the November ballot that asks voters if the city should cap rent prices.

To be placed on the ballot, the measure will require the approval of the Tampa City Council in two separate votes. Gudes said the first one should happen during Thursday’s meeting.

“I’ve had my lights turned off. I’ve gone a week without eating and saying, you know, ‘Man, we’re so hungry.’ So, I understand what some of these people are talking about. So, that’s why I have to do what I have to do,” Gudes said in the previous meeting.

But achieving rent control in Tampa is not guaranteed, even if a majority of council members approve Gudes’ plan. The measure will likely spark a fight that pits the city against the state since rent control is prohibited by Florida State Statute except under narrow circumstances.

Among other stipulations, Chapter 166 Section 043 of Florida State Statute says:

  • No rent control measures can be passed unless “such controls are necessary and proper to eliminate an existing housing emergency which is so grave as to constitute a serious menace to the general public”
  • Such rent control must be approved by voters
  • Any rent control measure “shall terminate and expire within one year”
  • And “no controls shall be imposed on rents” for luxury apartments, and according to the law from 1977, luxury was defined as anything in excess of $250 a month.

Joseph Citro, who supports Gudes’ plan, said a fight with the state seems almost certain if he and his colleagues pursue rent control.

“I guarantee people in Tallahassee — 20 to each of us — are watching this right now, and they’ve got pen to paper: ‘We’re going to stop this. We’re going to preempt this,’” he said in the meeting last week.

However, he and other members voiced a desire to forge ahead anyway, as more and more renters are pushed to the edge.

“Let’s shake up that tree,” said Citro, borrowing a phrase from his colleague, Councilman Charlie Miranda. “Let’s do some earth-shaking.”

“You know, you don’t win every sports game by throwing a touchdown. Somewhere along the line, you’ve got to kick a field goal. And guess what? It’s got to go in between the two goal posts,” Miranda added. “That’s not guaranteed, and neither is this.”

Tampa, however, might not be the only guinea pig testing Florida’s prohibitive rent control statute. In Orange County, county commissioners are pursuing a similar plan.

Wednesday night, more than a dozen renters and allies in St. Petersburg held a sleep-in on the lawn of St. Pete City Hall as part of a protest titled “Let the Voters Decide on Rent Control,” in which activists urged city leaders to follow in the footsteps of Tampa and Orange County.

“We need the same here in St. Pete, where rents are up 22.4% compared to last year,” wrote Jack Wallace with the St. Petersburg Tenants Union.

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