Matthew Prensky
Matthew Prensky · January 29, 2024

ARLINGTON, Va.—Today, the Institute for Justice (IJ) sent a letter to city officials in Haines City, Florida, strongly urging them to cease efforts to pass a near-total ban on food trucks and to immediately allow all banned food trucks to resume operations. Haines City’s food truck ban violates state law as well as the Florida and U.S. Constitutions. 

Earlier this month, Haines City leaders considered an ordinance that would force city staff to stop issuing the necessary approval for new food trucks to legally operate—effectively banning them from operating in Haines City. The ordinance would apply to existing food trucks as well, resulting in those trucks losing City permission to operate on October 1. The City Commission voted to approve the ordinance during a first reading on January 16 and is expected to vote it into law during a final reading on February 1. But even though the ban has yet to be officially approved, Haines City has already begun enforcing it, causing some food trucks, such as Lenora Crawford’s “Touch of Philly,” to shut down. 

Lenora, who has stage 4 kidney failure, and her husband recently opened their food truck to bring Philadelphia’s famous Philly cheesesteaks to the city. However, Lenora had to shut down the food truck after the city cited her for operating without its approval. Operating without the city’s approval can result in a fine of up to $500 a day under the proposed ordinance. Now, Lenora and her family are terrified as to how they will survive. 

“It’s really frustrating,” Lenora said. “We have no income. The food truck is how we pay our bills.” 

The city’s proposed law would also stop most existing food trucks from operating beyond October 1. Gloribel Zamora’s small business is among the food trucks whose current approval wouldn’t be renewed under the city’s new food truck ban. Gloribel and her husband run their Peruvian-Asian food truck, “Chaufa Mania,” with her husband, both of whom rely on the business to make a living. 

The ordinance’s ban applies even to food trucks that operate on private property, like Lenora and Gloribel do. Lenora and Gloribel currently pay hundreds of dollars in monthly rent to private property owners to sell on their land. But under the new ordinance, they will be forced to stop vending from those spaces or anywhere else in the city. 

Under Haines City’s ordinance, only a small subset of food trucks would be allowed to continue operating past October 1. However, even those operations would be limited, because the town prohibits food trucks from operating near other restaurants and food businesses. The city used to prohibit food trucks from operating within 150 feet of “the same type” of food establishment. But the new ordinance would prohibit them from operating within 150 feet of any food establishment, making it even more difficult for the food trucks to find a legal space. 

“In these difficult times, Haines City should be helping small businesses, not putting them out of business,” says Erica Smith Ewing, senior attorney at the Institute for Justice. “The City’s new ordinance is not only unjust, but illegal and unconstitutional.”  

That provision, along with the rest of Haines City’s proposed ordinance, violates multiple aspects of a Florida state law protecting food trucks that IJ helped pass in 2020. In particular, the city’s ordinance violates Florida’s prohibition against local municipalities requiring food trucks to obtain “a separate license, registration, or permit” other than what’s required by the state. Additionally, the ordinance violates a state ban on cities prohibiting “mobile food dispensing vehicles … from operating within the entirety of the entity’s jurisdiction.” 

Haines City’s proposed law also runs afoul with the Florida Constitution, which has a substantive due process clause that protects an individual’s right to earn an honest living. In this case, courts (including in Florida) haven’t hesitated to strike down laws that unfairly burden food trucks. 

IJ has spent decades fighting to protect the right to earn an honest living, including winning two different U.S. Supreme Court cases on the subject. And as part of its National Street Vending Initiative, IJ has defeated dozens of anti-competitive laws that harm street vendors and food trucks, including victories in Florida, Georgia, Kentucky, and North Carolina among others.