The creamy marble halls and brass wall sconces of the state Capitol building may not look like a battleground, but make no mistake: The 60 days of legislative session are rife with combat and power struggles. Competing interest groups, unresolved looming legislative issues, and sneaky amendments require the FAA government affairs team to be vigilant throughout the year, not only during the two-month whirlwind of session.
Planning and strategizing are year-round operations and FAA members are the driving force of what shapes FAA advocacy. Long before the springtime session, members gather at the annual October legislative platform meeting to decide what course of action FAA will chart in the upcoming session. This year, members chose to focus on three key issues: advocating for the continuation of the non-homestead property tax assessment cap, supporting the allocation of affordable housing funds (to build and refurbish affordable apartments), and playing defense against multiple bills that could have increased un-vetted housing discrimination lawsuits.
In addition to these three key policy areas, there were a barrage of anti-apartment industry bills this session. A total of 37 bills filed during the 2017 session could have had an impact on the apartment industry. These included issues ranging from limiting background screenings to creating new protected classes, and greatly expanding resident options for lease termination. Leading up to the session, FAA was made aware of numerous potentially impactful bills being filed. Several of these bills were shared at the platform meeting, and members decided where they FAA wanted to focus attention.
With intel of what legislation could appear in Tallahassee, FAA members, along with the FAA Government Affairs Council and Attorney Committee, were able to develop several ideas on how to best fight these issues. FAA members made the strategic decision to advocate on a mainly defensive level in 2017. Instead of fighting a war on two fronts, where FAA would be pushing legislation in an unfriendly legislative climate, members decided this session to focus on protecting the industry. While 2017 has been a largely defensive year for FAA,-it has also been an incredibly successful legislative session.
FAA members can claim three key victories and a number of ‘‘defensive wins.” This year, no anti-apartment bills progressed to becoming law. FAA was able to successfully fight every bill in Tallahassee that would have negatively impacted the multifamily industry. At the platform meeting, FAA members were made aware that several bills which had failed to advance in 2016, including court registry fees and eviction filings were expected to come back in the 2017 session. In addition, new bills regarding tenant notification and rights of domestic violence victims, which have appeared in local jurisdictions, were also expected to make an appearance in proposed state laws.
Two pieces of legislation that may positively affect the multifamily industry passed during this session. Firstly, HB 21 sponsored by Rep. Colleen Burton (which replaced SB 76 by Sen. Tom Lee) passed both houses unanimously and has been ‘‘enrolled’’ and filed to appear on the upcoming 2018 ballots. This bill is one of the 2017 priorities decided by FAA members and presented to legislators at the annual Legislative Conference.
HB 21 and SB 76 will create a joint resolution to place the 10% non-homestead assessment cap language back on the ballot for voters in 2018. Apartment communities are considered non-homesteaded properties and benefit from a cap on how much taxable assessments can be raised each year. If the cap is not reauthorized, then yearly assessments can increase by any amount for non-homestead property. This could mean apartment owners would see a jump in their property taxes in 2019. Drastic property tax increases could also result in a loss of apartment industry jobs.
Additionally, as part of the Sadowski Coalition, FAA helped to secure more than $120 million in funding for affordable housing. Affordable housing funds are derived from ''doc stamp'' revenue (taxes collected from real estate transactions) and are distributed by the state in the form of loans. These loans are used to refurbish aging affordable housing units and build new housing, which serves Florida's most vulnerable populations (veterans, senior citizens, people with disabilities, and those experiencing homelessness). The funds help to limit inclusionary zoning, and have a positive economic impact on the state's economy.
Lastly, the housing discrimination bills FAA opposed were kept of all committee meetings. SB 268, sponsored by Sen. Darryl Rouson, and its companion SB 742, sponsored by Sen. Jack Latvala, and HB 659, sponsored by Rep. Holly Raschein would have allowed a person who alleges housing discrimination to file a civil action for two years after an alleged incident before a complaint has been filed with the Florida Commission on Human Relations or a local housing discrimination agency.
Although the 2017 session has ended, it’s already time to prepare for the 2018 session. Legislators will reconvene in September to begin filing bills and hosting committee meetings to discuss legislation. FAA will be on guard and ready to return to battle in Tallahassee.
FAA members can assist industry-wide efforts when the legislature is not in session by contributing to APAC, which supports candidates friendly to the multifamily industry, and by attending the upcoming platform meeting in conjunction with the 2017 FAA Annual Conference & Trade Show. If you have any questions regarding FAA advocacy, please contact FAA government affairs director, Courtney Barnard at Courtney@faahq.org.
Editor's note: This article originally appeared in the Summer 2017 issue of Multifamily Florida.