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2020 Florida Legislature Adjourns

Housing Wins! Affordable Housing, Environment, Housing Discrimination & Emotional Support Animals Among Top Victories

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. — March 19, 2020 — 1:49 pm — For the first time in more than a decade, the state’s housing trust funds have been fully funded at $370 million, giving Floridians additional resources they can use to achieve the dream of home ownership. This has the ability to provide millions of dollars in downpayment assistance in 2021 as the state recovers from the impact of COVID-19.

In addition to fully funding the housing trust funds, the Florida Legislature passed other Florida Realtors priorities including record amounts of environmental funding, comprehensive affordable housing policy changes, eliminating discriminatory housing restrictions and providing clear guidelines for emotional support animal (ESA) certificates. Bills passed head to the governor for final approval.

Florida Realtors biggest legislative victories

• Full funding of the housing trust funds ($370 million) — For the first time since 2006, lawmakers appropriated all funds available in the State and Local Government Housing Trust Funds for affordable housing programs. The full appropriation of $370 million includes $225 million for SHIP, which will result in an incredible increase in downpayment assistance, $115 million for SAIL and $30 million to assist Panhandle residents whose properties were devastated by Hurricane Michael.

• Increased flexibility for affordable housing projects — The Legislature approved a measure which gives local governments increased flexibility regarding where they can build affordable housing developments.

• Curbing emotional support animal certificate abuse — The Legislature passed a bill that will require a patient who needs an ESA certificate to see a licensed medical practitioner with whom they have an established professional relationship. The target of this new law is to reduce the abuse seen with online transactions to obtain these certificates.

• Removal of blatant fair housing violations from documents — A bill was passed that removes discriminatory language from title transactions such as deeds, and expressly states the restrictions are unlawful, unenforceable and null and void. It also provides for summary removal of discriminatory restrictions from the governing documents of a property owners’ association.

• $625 million for environmental projects — The Legislature continues to allocate record levels of funding for projects that help address Florida’s environmental issues. This year’s funding of more than $625 million includes money for Everglades restoration, springs protection, red tide research and a monumental amount of funding for wastewater facility treatment upgrades

• Another big step for water quality in Florida — The Legislature passed a comprehensive water quality bill that sets the blueprint for septic tank mitigation and replacement where available. It also addresses new reporting requirements for the agriculture industry and wastewater facilities.

• Making commercial leases easier — The Legislature passed a measure that eliminates the outdated requirement in Florida law that requires two people to witness the signing of leases longer than a year.

• Extending property tax benefits — The Legislature passed a joint resolution for the November 2020 ballot that extends the portability of a homestead property tax benefit from two years to three years.

• Preventing unlicensed real estate activity — The Legislature allocated up to $500,000 to combat unlicensed real estate activity.
The Legislature also passed a multitude of other bills of interest to Realtors. They include things such as fines for excessive wastewater dumping, additional remedies for nuisance properties, increased condo insurance coverage and protecting private property rights as communities manage their growth.

Additionally, many bills of interest made it far into the legislative process and will likely come back again next session for consideration. These bills include short-term rental regulation, further cuts to the Business Rent Tax, transfer fees charged by community associations, swimming pool safety and more. Florida Realtors will continue to work on these issues next year.

For more information on these and other bills, visit the Florida Realtors advocacy website.

Remedies to Open and Expired Permits — Open and expired permits can delay a closing, and in some cases, kill the deal because of the uncertainty associated with them. To address the problem, HB 447 allows local governments to close a permit six years after its issuance as long as no apparent safety hazards exist. It also prevents local governments from penalizing property owners for an open permit that was applied for by a previous owner. Effective: October 1, 2019.

***    Additional Reduction to the Business Rent Tax — Businesses throughout Florida will save more than $65 million each year due to a .2% reduction of the Business Rent Tax. The new state tax rate on commercial leases will be 5.5%, down from 5.7% in 2018 and 6% in 2017. Effective: January 1, 2020.

  • Approval of Online Remote Notaries — HB 409 allows the use of online remote notaries in real estate transactions to make closings easier, faster and more convenient for distant parties. Effective: January 1, 2020.
  • Curbing AOB Abuse to Keep Insurance Affordable — HB 7065 limits the ability of contractors to receive payment for their attorney fees if the claim is settled or won in court. This is commonly referred to as one-way attorney fees and is the primary incentive behind AOB fraud. Please note, all provisions of the bill become effective on July 1, 2019, except for provisions relating to attorney fees which become effective upon the bill being signed into law.
  • $682 Million for Environmental Projects — Communities throughout Florida were devastated last year by environmental issues such as blue-green algae and red tide. The Legislature responded with significant amounts of funding for environmental projects designed to address these problems. Effective: July 1, 2019.
  • More than $200 million for Affordable Housing Projects — The Legislature allocated $200.6 million from the state and local government housing trust funds for affordable housing programs. This includes $115 million to assist Panhandle residents whose properties were devastated by Hurricane Michael. Effective: July 1, 2019.
  • Continued Funding for LIDAR Mapping — The budget includes language that allows the Division of Emergency Management to continue spending the $15 million currently being used for LIDAR (light detection and ranging) mapping. LIDAR is a next-generation mapping technique and has the potential to lower flood insurance rates throughout Florida. Effective: July 1, 2019.
  • Preventing Unlicensed Real Estate Activity — The Legislature allocated up to $500,000 from the Professional Regulation Trust Fund to the Department of Business and Professional Regulation to combat unlicensed real estate activity. Effective: July 1, 2019.