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April 6, 2020

Price Gauging Rules During an Emergency

According to a story in the Tampa Bay Times, the Hillsborough Emergency Policy Group met today and decided to send a letter to Governor Desantis asking (1) whether the Governor’s safer-at-home order allows landlords to raise rents during the coronavirus pandemic, and (2) to clarify  whether the moratorium on evictions covers commercial evictions as well.

I think I could answer the group’s questions just by reading the orders: (1) the Governor’s Safer-at-Home Order does not prevent rent increases but Florida statutes may, and (2) the Governor’s suspension of evictions does not apply to commercial evictions.

I wrote about both Florida’s Safer-at-Home order and Florida’s order suspending evictions and foreclosures before.

 (1) First, the Safer-at-Home order does not prevent landlords from raising rent during this time.  I haven’t seen anything close to that in the State’s Safer-at-Home Order.  Furthermore, the state’s order suspending evictions does not say anything about rental increases.

However, there are already laws on the books that may prevent a landlord from increasing rent.  A landlord generally can only raise rent if there’s something in the lease allowing them to raise rent, if the tenancy is a month-to-month tenancy (or other term if applicable), or if a lease has expired.  If a residential tenancy is month-to-month, a landlord generally must give notice 15 days before the end of the term before raising rent. Fla. Stat. 83.57.

For most month-to-month tenancies where rent is due on the 1st of the month, a landlord giving notice today could not raise rent until May 1, 2020.  They could not do it retroactively.  If they wanted to raise rent as of April 1, 2020, they must have given notice by March 16, 2020.

If a lease is in effect governing what rent is due, then generally whatever is in the lease governs.  Both tenants and landlords are responsible for complying with their lease agreements during this time.

Additionally, Florida’s price gouging statute may prevent increases in rent.  It is unlawful for any person to impose unconscionable prices for the rental or lease of a dwelling unit during an emergency.  Fla. Stat.  501.60.   I wrote more about Florida’s price gouging statute before and you could read about it HERE.

(2) Secondly, the state’s order related to suspending evictions explicitly states that it applies “solely as it relates to non-payment of rent by residential tenants.”