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Landlords, car dealers get wins with House votes. Dems say consumers lose

Consumers who get in disputes with their car dealer or landlord could end up facing a tougher task after two pro-industry bills passed the Florida House on Wednesday.

HB 55, sponsored by Rep. Matt Gaetz, would require some car buyers who have a dispute with their car dealer to send a demand letter prior to filing a lawsuit.

Car buyers who believe their car sellers have acted deceptively or fraudulently will have to send a detailed demand letter including the amount of damages being claimed, and give the dealer 30 days to address the problem before suing.

Gaetz said the bill would help consumers and car dealers avoid expensive litigation, and the demand letter proposal would allow parties to “more efficiently and effectively solve disputes.”

The bill passed 83-29, with opposition from Democrats who said the demand letter put too much of a burden on consumers, especially those who are not savvy about the legal process.

“The bill that we have before us is very troubling from the perspective of consumers,” said Rep. Jose Javier Rodriguez, D-Miami, who blamed supporters of the bill for “cutting off access to redress for those consumers” who have car problems after buying a vehicle.

“We shouldn’t be legislating something honestly that is this anti-consumer, when there are probably solutions before us that are more narrow,” he said.

Said Rep. Elaine Schwartz, D-Hollywood: “There are a lot of things about this that don’t smell so good,” adding that car dealers are notorious for “trying to con someone.”

“This bill eviscerates… those rights that consumers have under the current law,” said Rep. Dwight Dudley, R-St. Petersburg. 

Rep. Kathleen Passidomo, R-Naples, defended the bill from those Democratic attacks, saying that it’s a simple way to avoid costly litigation.

“If an individual buys a motor vehicle, and there’s a problem with the vehicle—all they have to do is say, ‘I’ve got a problem with the car,’” she said.

Lawmakers also passed HB 77 on a party-line 78-37 vote. The bill changes some of the laws regarding landlords and tenants, including allowing landlords to evict tenants while collecting “partial rent” and allows for people to be evicted during holidays and weekends.

Democrats also called the bill anti-consumer.