3 groups urge Crist to veto bill they say rewards landlords

Published May 17, 2007

TALLAHASSEE - Three consumer and community groups urged Gov. Charlie Crist on Wednesday to veto a bill permitting lease clauses requiring tenants to pay fees equal to two months rent if they move out early.

The Florida Public Interest Research Group, ACORN and the Consumer Federation of the Southeast contend it would allow landlords to collect rents from two tenants for the same space.

"Sometimes people have to leave an apartment because the landlord just won't make repairs, the complex isn't safe any more or they may even have to move for a job or military service, " ACORN member Beverly Campbell said in a statement. "It's just not fair."

Crist spokesman Thomas Philpot said the governor has not yet received nor taken a position on the bill (HB 1277).

Florida Apartment Association lobbyist Ron Book defended the bill, saying it benefits tenants by requiring only a two-month penalty. Under existing leases they could be liable for even bigger payments if it takes longer to find a new renter.

"It's a fair bill, a consumer-friendly bill, " Book said. "We removed every bit of ambiguity."

Book said a change was made to satisfy ACORN during the legislative process but the other two groups never objected.

The two-month provision is negotiable between the tenant and landlord, Book said. He said some landlords had asked for even bigger penalties.

Public Interest Research Group spokesman Brad Ashwell said renters, though, often have little choice except to take what landlords demand in tight rental markets.

"Under this legislation, landlords make a windfall, " Ashwell said. "However, a renter receives nothing if the landlord breaches their contract."

Tenant lawyer Rod Tennyson joined the groups in seeking a veto. He said the bill is "a radical departure from landlord-tenant law in this country."