Miami – In the first of its kind, MiamiDade County Mayor Daniella Levine Cava signed into law the county’s Tenant’s Bill of Rights which would protect tenants from their landlords and help ease their burden during an affordable housing crisis.

Cava, flanked by county commissioners during a news conference last week, said the first ever Tenant’s Bill of Rights would increase awareness of tenant’s rights and provide guidance regarding available community resources.

Cava will also create an Office of Housing Advocacy to help guide tenants to the appropriate agencies with available resources to assist them.

The Office of Housing Advocacy will also be responsible for conducting training, engaging with community and professional groups representing tenants and landlords, and publishing and disseminating information and educational materials relating to the Tenant’s Bill of Rights.

In April, the county declared an affordable crisis and made $13 million in rental assistance available for renters struggling to pay their rent after landlords increased their rate by over 20 percent.

"As home prices and rents continue to rise, our families face an urgent threat to their quality of life," Cava said. "As a long-time community advocate, I am committed to meeting the housing needs of all our residents, that’s why my administration has stepped up to do everything possible to tackle the affordability crisis."

County Commissioner Jean Monestime sponsored the Tennat’s Bill of Rights ordinance and his fellow county commissioners unanimously passed the legislation on May 3.

Cava’s signature made it official on May 13.

Monestime said he has been concerned about the lack of housing affordability facing the residents of Miami-Dade County as climbing property prices paired with low wages has created a housing crisis in the County, which features some of the most expensive housing costs in the nation.

“As you know, I’m very passionate about this topic." said Monestime, who’s district is affected by the affordable housing crisis. "I also want to thank this board for being so collegiate about this item. We all have the understanding that we do everything for the betterment of Miami-Dade County.

"We are just trying to provide equity to those who need it the most. When the Miami Workers Center and groups of housing advocates reached out to our office for the purpose of drafting the Tenant’s Bill of Rights, it became my solemn imperative to help bring these ideas to fruition."

The new law allows tenants to deduct costs of neglected repairs from their rent, prohibits landlords from asking about past evictions, landlords are required to notify tenants of new owners, protects tenants from retaliation if they seek government help against their landlord, and creates the office of housing advocacy.

▪The new Tenant’s Bill of Rights goes hand-in-hand with a new county ordinance that requires landlords to give 60 days’ advance notice when they increase rent by more than 5 percent.

Legal ramifications of the new law drew the concern of Miami Realtors, which represents over 60,000 realtors in South Florida.

Miami Realtors said though it shares the goal of the county in creating the Tenant’s Bill of Rights, promoting and furthering housing stability in Miami-Dade County, it has some concerns that the new law could open landlords to significant liability because tenants can now sue them for alleged violations. "The lack of public education about the Tenants’ Bill of Rights would not be as troublesome as it is, but for the private right of action," said Miami Realtors CEO Teresa King Kinney in a letter to Cava and county commissioners. "Landlords’ failure to comply with something as simple as not providing a copy of the Tenants’ Bill of Rights to a tenant, using the required form from the Office of Housing Advocacy that does not yet exist, can land them in court, liable for attorneys’ fees, costs, and interest.

"We want to reiterate that Miami Realtors shares the goal of the Miami-Dade Board of County Commissioners in creating the Tenants’ Bill of Rights – promoting and furthering housing stability in Miami-Dade County. Unfortunately, without additional amendments that afford the community ample opportunity to provide meaningful feedback, we are concerned about the unintended consequences that will run afoul of the intent of this legislation."

Kinney said she hopes her group and the county can come to a compromise by amending the ordinance.

She stopped short of threatening legal action against the county.

Nevertheless, the new Tenant’s Bill of Rights ordinance is a victory for renters.

Gail Mason, who lives in a rented home in Miami, said she’s relieved that she can deduct rent payments from fixing up the house when her landlord neglected to make repairs.

"I’m so glad," said Mason, who pays $1,500 a month for rent. "Paying to fix up the house and paying the rent at the same time drained me financially."