St. Pete City Council votes down putting rent control ordinance on ballot

For the second time this year, St. Petersburg city councilors have voted down putting a rent control ordinance on the ballot. 

Thursday's emergency meeting ended in shouting after a 5-3 vote delivered the final nail in the coffin for rent control in St. Pete. The decision came down after hours of pleas from tenants struggling against historic rent increases.

"My rent went up $300 last year and $500 this year. That’s ridiculous. I can’t afford that," said one St. Pete resident during public comment. "I just ask you at age 80, what am I to do?"

Several residents told council members they feared eviction and homelessness if their rents continue to increase.

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"I’d rather be dead than try to be homeless with my disability," said one woman. "It’s not fair. I’ve lived here 16 years in St. Pete. This is home and I can’t afford to live in my home."

But a majority of council members found the legal and economic risks were simply too high.

"I believe when the government puts price controls on things it creates shortages. To me, it’s going to exacerbate the problem that we have, not solve the problem," said Councilman Ed Montanari.

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Since 1977, Florida law has prohibited local governments from passing their own rent control measures, unless voters approve a housing emergency declaration. The law includes several types of housing that are exempt from any type of rent control measure, including an exception for "luxury" apartments, which the law defines as anything with a monthly rent over $250.

Attorney's advised the limit would be about $1,200 in today's dollars, a threshold few renters would fall under in today's market. 

"Every landlord in the city that’s charging a reasonable rent just below the threshold they’re going to raise it. It’s just obvious that they’re going to raise it so that they would be exempt," said councilwoman Gina Driscoll.