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Politics

Bills Signed To Speed Fla. Foreclosures, Evictions

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File photo of Fla. Gov. Rick Scott. (Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images)

File photo of Fla. Gov. Rick Scott. (Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images)

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TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (AP) — Florida Gov. Rick Scott, ignoring veto pleas from consumer advocates, on Friday signed two measures into law that could affect renters and homeowners across the state. One bill could up speed up the foreclosure process in Florida. The other makes it easier for landlords to evict tenants.

The two pieces of legislation were among 34 bills that Scott signed.

The governor also signed another heavily debated bill that would require health insurers to provide the same level of coverage for cancer treatments given orally as those drugs administered intravenously. More than 20 states have a similar law.

The landlord-tenant bill comes at a time when more and more people in the state have become renters due to the foreclosure crisis that has troubled Florida for years.

Under the new law, a tenant could pay partial rent and still be evicted within days if they fail to turn over the rest of the money. The measure would also allow a landlord to evict a tenant if a person breaks rules twice in one year. Those rules can include parking in the wrong spot or having an unauthorized pet.

Sen. Kelli Stargel, R-Lakeland and a bill sponsor, maintained that the legislation did not include any major changes, but instead was intended to clarify the rights of both tenants and landlords. Stargel is an investment property manager and court records show she has been forced to evict tenants in the past.

Alice Vickers with the Florida Consumer Action Network, however, called Stargel’s bill the “largest erosion in protections for residential tenants that Florida has seen in many years.”

Vickers was among those consumer advocates who called on Scott to veto both the landlord tenant bill and the foreclosure measure.

The Sunshine State was one of the hardest hit by the national collapse in the real estate market that began in 2008. Those foreclosure cases quickly swamped an already overworked court system.

Rep. Kathleen Passidomo, R-Naples, said earlier this year that her bill preserves due-process rights for distressed homeowners while trying to stimulate Florida’s real-estate market by getting foreclosed property “back into the stream of commerce.”

The legislation would make banks prove in more detail that they own a mortgage or explain why they can’t prove ownership. It also creates a process for others besides mortgage-holders to ask the court to speed up foreclosure cases.

Another key provision would reduce the statute of limitations, or amount of time, for banks to go after foreclosed homeowners on deficiency judgments — from five years to one year. Deficiencies are the difference between the money obtained from selling a foreclosed home and what the original homeowner still owes on it.

Scott, in a bill signing letter, contended that the legislation would “bring more certainty to the housing market.”

“This process will put these homes back onto the housing market and allow Florida families who have experienced a foreclosure to begin working to repair their credit and finances,” Scott wrote.

Lawyers who represent homeowners in foreclosure cases have already said they plan to sue to challenge the new foreclosure law. Matt Weidner, a St. Petersburg attorney, said one of the provisions of the bill limits the ability of a judge to correct a simple mistake in a foreclosure order.

“This finality of foreclosure provision provides that if a home is lost to foreclosure, even if the foreclosure was the product of gross fraud, complete error or total mistake, the innocent consumer can never, ever get their home back,” Weidner said in a statement.

The cancer treatment bill signed by Scott was championed by Sen. Lizbeth Benacquisto, a Fort Myers Republican whose mother died of cancer.

The cancer treatment provisions were tucked into a larger bill dealing with several other health-care issues, which complicated efforts to win final passage. Benacquisto also had to accept a provision that delayed the cancer provision until July 1, 2014. This means legislators could always come back and repeal it next year before it even takes effect.

(© Copyright 2013 The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)

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