2015 End-of-Session Report
Florida's 2015 legislative session has come to a close as both chambers have declared sine die after a whirlwind 60 days of session. FAA can claim several legislative victories this year despite the unique end-of-session challenges. FAA is pleased that three bills important to our constituency passed both the state Senate and House of Representatives in this legislative session. These bills are awaiting the governor's signature to become law.
HB 071, sponsored by Rep. Jimmie T. Smith, mandates that a service animal be kept under control of its handler and authorizes the removal of an animal from an apartment community if the animal is not under the handler's control, is not housebroken, or poses a serious threat to others. The bill also strengthens the penalties for falsely claiming a pet is a service animal, making the offense a misdemeanor punishable by a fine or community service or both.
SB 656, sponsored by Sen. Jack Latvala, reforms the current process for evicting a transient occupant of a property (an occupant who is not on a lease and is not a permanent resident of the property). The bill would alleviate the need for a court order to remove the transient, and would allow a law enforcement official to eject the occupant immediately on grounds of criminal trespass, as long as the current lease holder or owner filed a sworn affidavit regarding possession of the property.
HB 779, sponsored by Rep. Mia Jones, creates a state-level solution to the now-expired federal ''Protecting Tenants in Foreclosure Bill.'' The bill requires that a new owner of a recently foreclosed property give tenants a notice to vacate the residence at least 30 days before the purchaser intends to occupy the residence. In situations in which a lease exists and the purchaser does not intend to occupy the residence, the tenant can continue to stay until the end of the lease. This bill continues the practice that a lease supersedes a foreclosure, unless the new owner intends to occupy the property.
As of May 1, all passed bills were sent to the governor to be signed into law. FAA does not expect any of its legislation to be vetoed by the governor.
In addition to supporting several pieces of legislation, FAA took a defensive strategy regarding two important bills. HB 439, sponsored by Rep. Eric Eisnaugle, was originally drafted to include language which would have changed the process for filing a fair housing complaint and would have allowed residents to seek litigation before using any administrative remedies. This bill would have put those who operate rental units in a place of greater liability and risk of being drawn into a civil suit regarding fair housing by negating administrative remedies. FAA was able to have this language removed.
Secondly, FAA was able to help halt SB 504, sponsored by Sen. Eleanor Sobel, which would have mandated increased playground equipment inspections and would have required apartment communities either to pay a certified playground equipment inspector to conduct the inspections or to send an apartment community staff person for training and licensing to become a certified playground inspector.
Unfortunately, one of FAA's main legislative priorities went unheard in the final hours of legislative session. On day 57, the House abruptly adjourned, leaving the Senate only able to pass bills that had previously passed the House, without making any changes. The House version of FAA's maintenance exemption, HB 915, sponsored by Rep. Dane Eagle, passed the House and was poised to be combined and passed with SB 1232, sponsored by Sen. Wilton Simpson. FAA's bill was one of several hundred bills that were postponed by the Senate in the aftermath of the House shutdown.
The House shutdown has also led to other important implications for FAA. The Legislature will hold a special session from June 1 to June 20 to hear bills and issues specifically dealing with state budget allocations. SB 586, sponsored by Sen. Charles Dean, which deals with affordable housing, specifically Sadowski funding, will be heard during the special session in June. The House and Senate have reached conflicting numbers with regard to affordable housing funding and this must be resolved. In the proposed House budget, $121.52 million had been allocated to affordable housing, versus the Senate figure of $256 million. The special session is required for the Legislature to pass the Florida budget for 2016. Florida statute requires the Legislature to pass a balanced budget annually; if a budget is not agreed upon by July 1, Florida will enter a government shutdown. FAA will continue to monitor all multifamily related issues during the special session