tampabay.com

Governor sides with renters, not legislators

The bipartisan bill would have made steeper penalties for renters who break their leases.

By REBECCA CATALANELLO
Published May 25, 2007


Renters found a friend Thursday in Gov. Charlie Crist.

Citing lack of affordable housing for the state's workers, Crist vetoed a bill that would have created steeper penalties for renters who break their leases.

"I am concerned this bill would harm the 4.5-million Floridians who live in rental properties, " Crist wrote in his veto letter to the secretary of state.

The bill, which passed both houses of the Legislature with only 14 votes opposed, would have allowed landlords to charge an early termination fee or damages of up to two months' rent if a tenant left early. That would have been on top of unpaid rent and other fees agreed to in the contract.

"While I understand that this would provide another option for landlords who manage rental property, " Crist wrote, "I believe the impact on those Floridians least able to afford to pay such fees would be just too great."

Opposed in the past by Democrats, the Residential Landlord and Tenant Act this year received bipartisan support including the sponsorship of state Sen. Arthenia Joyner, a Tampa Democrat.

The Florida Apartment Association hired powerful lobbyist Ron Book to tout their cause.

Joyner could not be reached late Thursday after the governor made his veto announcement. Previously, she said she supported the bill because it included a clause that would allow renters to specifically reject or accept an agreement to pay the fee before they signed a lease.

Rod Tennyson, a West Palm Beach lawyer who has filed and settled eight class-action lawsuits on behalf of renters charged with so-called double rent, praised Crist for acting independent of legislative politics.

"I believed the bill was unconstitutional, " he said. Creating a law to allow one party to have an advantage in a private contract would have created a terrible precedent, Tennyson said.

Late Thursday, Crist vetoed three other bills:

- SB 1116 revising Medicaid policy. He expressed alarm at several provisions, including one requiring doctors to use name brand drugs instead of generics for transplant patients. That would increase Medicaid costs by $500, 000 in the first year, he wrote. "Even more disturbing, " he wrote, "is the fact that many of these provider-driven provisions were not discussed in an open forum, but were, instead, added to the bill at the last minute without proper public hearing."

- SB 920, which created a new license for hair technicians, estheticians, nail technicians and cosmetologists.

- SB 1104, which increased boat registration fees by $2 to help pay for removal of derelict boats. Crist said the tax would be unfair to responsible boaters.