Lawmakers may add to broken lease fee

Bills call for renters to pay two months' rent for moving out early.

Published April 10, 2007

TALLAHASSEE - Florida's 4.5-million renters beware: Two bills wending their way through the Legislature could end up costing you another two months' rent if you break your lease.

After the landlord lobby failed to get a similar measure passed last year, the Florida Apartment Association hired Ron Book, a deep-pocketed lobbyist known for getting his clients what they want.

Sponsored by Sen. Arthenia Joyner, D-Tampa, and Rep. Pat Patterson, R-DeLand, this year's proposals (SB 1277/HB 1277) would allow landlords to charge renters up to two months' rent when they move out early, even if the landlord has found a new tenant to make up lost rent.

Sen. Dave Aronberg, who vocally opposed the measure last year, spoke in support of Joyner's bill on Monday.

He said that while it could cost some renters more if they break their contracts late in the lease, it could actually benefit those who terminate within the first few months of signing.

Under current law, a renter who leaves before the contract is complete could be required to pay through the end of the lease if the landlord is unable to find a new occupant.

That could be especially painful for someone who has, say, seven months left on the lease.

If the Senate version is approved, that fee could be capped at two months.

The House version, however, could include other penalties, unless it is amended as Joyner's was Monday with the simple addition of three "or"s.

The flip side is that someone who breaks a lease in the 11th month could be required to pay two months rent, even if the residence is rented within days.

"In previous years, I was against this bill because it provided for unlimited damages," Aronberg said Monday, rebutting critics' complaints his new support is due to Book's influence.

"It has nothing to do with Ron Book, I can assure you," said Aronberg, a recent renter and new landlord. "I've negotiated with them and they've taken out the bad stuff in this bill."

Renter Beverly Campbell, 38, speaking for an Orlando group representing low- and middle-income families called ACORN, said the bill would burden families who are forced to move for jobs, safety, family illness or other reasons outside their control.

"A landlord should not be able to collect rent on somebody if they are already making money on the place with another tenant," Campbell said, calling it double rent.

Other groups opposed include Florida Consumer Action Network, Consumer Federation of the Southeast and Florida Public Interest Research Group.

Rod Tennyson, a lawyer who has successfully sued Florida landlords over the issue of double rent, said that, if approved, the new legislation could affect about 450,000 people, or 10 percent of renters.

He said the median length of time an apartment stays vacant after a resident leaves is 22 days.