Residents make plea for rent control as housing costs soar

BOYNTON BEACH, Fla. — As rental rates reach unprecedented levels in South Florida, the calls for rent control are growing louder.

But some experts say it would only make matters worse for renters and those looking for housing.

Linda Selden can’t afford a rent increase and is facing a tough situation.

“I don’t know what I’m going to do. I don’t know where I’m going to go,” Selden said. “I’m taking tranquilizers. I can’t sleep at night. I’m terrified of what’s going on here. It’s horrifying. It’s scaring me.”

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Linda Selden shares her fears about the housing crisis as prices soar in South Florida.

She lives on a fixed income at Sealofts at Boynton Village in Boynton Beach where her rent is increasing upwards of $800 — a 60% spike that she can’t afford.

“I’m borrowing money from friends to pay the difference,” Selden said. “I don’t even have enough in Social Security to pay the rent.”

With nowhere to go, or anyone to turn to, she along with many residents who are being priced out are pushing for rental caps in Palm Beach County.

“I can do it for 10%. I can’t do it for any more than that. I cannot. I don’t have it,” Selden said.

RELATED: Florida dominates list of 25 most overvalued US rental markets, study says

Ken Johnson, FAU economist

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FAU economist Ken Johnson outlines why he doesn’t think rent control is a solution to South Florida’s housing crisis.

Florida Atlantic University real estate economist Ken Johnson said rental caps could lead to economic trouble.

“Because what rent controls do is actually tell the developer that we are going to control your revenue stream after you build the property, so naturally builders, developers stop developing units or cut way back on the amount they are going to develop,” Johnson said. “Rent controls would actually shrink the number of units that are available.”

He said landlords will also find ways around the caps, which often leads to unexpected costs and hidden fees.

“All of a sudden there’s a fee for maintenance. There’s a fee for the rental application, and it doesn’t get encompassed in say the local laws around rent control,” Johnson said.

RELATED: Renters face high costs, low inventory as housing crisis impacts South Florida

There are only a handful of states in the U.S. that allow rent control: New York, New Jersey, California, Maryland, Oregon and Washington, D.C.

State Rep. Matt Willhite discusses rental caps in Florida

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State Rep. Matt Willhite believes housing costs could be addressed by state lawmakers in the upcoming special session.

State law prohibits such measures in Florida. However, there is an exception.

A municipality like Palm Beach County would have to declare an emergency. But even then, voters must approve rent control, and it can only last a year.

RELATED: What caused skyrocketing housing costs in South Florida?

The only other option would be to propose new statewide legislation, which is a move state Rep. Matt Willhite, D-Wellington, is hopeful for.

“I can understand landlords wanting obviously to cover some of those costs if they have to. But just charging drastic rates is just not fair to people,” Willhite said. “To me, it’s almost similar to price gouging.”

The next legislative session is set for May 23 and will tackle property insurance rates, but Willhite said there’s potential for rent control to also be addressed.

“A lot of my colleagues have called for that. And they’ve asked for that to be added to this special session,” Willhite said. “There are a lot of elected officials asking for help on this, that’s for sure, especially at the local level, because they’re the ones that are hearing from people that they cannot afford to live in their cities and counties.”

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