Jacksonville tenants left feeling powerless as rental costs skyrocket

Lawmaker proposing plan to help control Florida’s rising rental costs

If you’ve recently received notice that your rent is increasing dramatically, you are not alone.

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – If you’ve recently received notice that your rent is increasing dramatically, you are not alone.

The News4JAX I-TEAM has been getting dozens of emails and calls from tenants who say they are being asked to pay hundreds of dollars more a month.

Right now, Florida renters don’t have any real options to address the amount of a rent increase because there are no limitations. Rent increases are decided solely at a landlord’s discretion.

News4JAX employee Sasha Saliba’s sticker shock came in the form of a letter from management at her Southside apartment complex, which is raising her rent by $398 dollars a month — a 27 percent increase — in order to renew her lease.

News4Jax employee Sasha Saliba got a letter that the rent at her Southside apartment was going up nearly $400 a month, a 27% increase. (Copyright 2021 by WJXT News4Jax - All rights reserved.)

“When they first gave this to us the first thing I think I asked was is this even legal? I didn’t know they could just ask for whatever they wanted,” Saliba said. “To ask for that much more and have to decide within two weeks if we are going to go or stay, we were just shocked at the whole situation.”

Tenants all across the state of Florida are also learning that they don’t have any other recourse other than to pay the increase in rent or find another place to live.

Hundreds of News4JAX viewers weighed in on News4JAX.com and on social media after we asked if they were also experiencing rent increases.

“Rent went up 30% from $1050 to $1400 from one year to the next. Nothing significant done to apartment last year to warrant such a steep raise,” said Justin Blocki, who lives on the Southside.

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“Initially they wanted 25% more. I negotiated it to 15% and signed a ten month lease. Lease is up in June and they’ll want even more. I’m a disabled veteran on disability trying to work part time and I have my elderly mother on a fixed income with me. We struggle to make it happen now and SS and VA pension increases aren’t enough to make a dent in it. It will be impossible to stay,” Mark Hilton said.

According to the Florida Apartment Association, the average monthly rent in the Jacksonville area went from $1,125 in 2020 to $1,411 in 2022.

The group also says there are fewer vacant apartments in Jacksonville than in the past and that limited supply is driving up prices. And while we’ve seen new apartments go up around the city, the group says, construction isn’t keeping pace with demand.

The average rent in the Jacksonville area has gone up more than $286 in just over two years. (Copyright 2021 by WJXT News4Jax - All rights reserved.)

“Jacksonville was one of 14 cities in the United States that saw a population increase of 100,000 or more from 2010 to 2020. This significant and rapid population growth is fueling the demand for housing in a market with constrained supply. Although Jacksonville’s multifamily market rate inventory has grown by 18 percent in the last five years, construction has still failed to keep pace with growing demand for housing. To put this in perspective, the vacancy rate in the Jacksonville market is currently 5 percent, nearly half the historical average of 9.4 percent. As a result of the limited supply, the average rent in the Jacksonville market area is $1,411,” the group said in a statement.

The association also said demand is an issue in other metro areas including Orlando, Tampa, and Miami, but added that the area remains more affordable when compared to Orlando ($1,658 average rent), Tampa ($1,665 average rent), and Miami ($2,011 average rent).

Democratic state lawmakers are calling on Gov. Ron DeSantis to declare a state of emergency that would make rent hikes over 10% qualify as price gouging.

One Central Florida state senator is trying to tackle the issue through new legislation that would give local governments the authority to determine how much of an increase they can demand.

State Senator Victor Torres said he thinks landlords are taking advantage of our current economy and inflation.

“Some landlords are getting greedy, they are getting out of hand, they don’t see the broader pictures that people are in need,” he said. “We’ve gone through two years of a pandemic debacle and we need to help our people.”

Torres said Senate Bill 580 would give local governments the power to impose rent control measures, forcing landlords to incrementally raise the rent, rather than hiking it up 25 to 35%.

“The reality is how can you afford a four or six hundred dollars increase in rent? You’re putting people out in the street and these are working people, working-class. It’s a shame this is occurring and we have to do something about that,” Torres said.

The I-TEAM reached out to Jacksonville Mayor Lenny Curry’s office to see if he would support legislation that would create rent control measures and the mayor’s office responded with a statement:

Torres said SB 580 is waiting to be heard by three Senate committees before it can get a vote by the full Senate.

There is also an identical bill in the Florida House.

About the Authors:

Tarik anchors the 4, 5:30 and 6:30 p.m. weekday newscasts and reports with the I-TEAM.