FLORIDA’S LANDLORD - TENANT LAWS
A SUMMARY OF CHAPTER 83, PART II, FLORIDA STATUTES
Most people know that when they rent a home that they have certain rights. However, most people do not know what those rights happen to be. Hallisky Davis & Associates, P.L. is developing this particular page to help and clear up many frequently asked questions about the relationship between Landlords and Tenants. Realize that this page does not cover all of Florida's complicated landlord-tenant laws and that if you are in a legal dispute with your landlord you should strongly consider obtaining a lawyer to assist you.
This information should not be construed as creating an attorney-client relationship between the Firm and the reader. Nor is it intended for the purposes of providing legal advice. This information is provided solely for the education of the reader and nothing more. For additional information not address here, please refer to Chapter 83, Florida Statutes. If you want to develop an attorney level of understanding for landlord-tenant law in Florida, click here.
This page should act as an education hub and an organizational checklist for both landlords and tenants who are about to enter into a contract to rent space.
Before the Lease is Signed
First, walk through the premises to identify any problems that should be fixed BEFORE entering into a rental agreement. You should take pictures, videos, and make note of the condition of the property prior to turning over possession or taking possession of the premises. This is true for landlords AND tenants. Remember that both the tenant and the landlord are equal parties to an agreement. Neither are obligated to enter into any agreement with which they are not in agreement.
Second, background checks. Often, landlords will do a background check to make sure that a prospective tenant will not pose a problem in the future. The firm finds that, too often, tenants are not doing a background check on their landlords. With such broad access to the internet, there is no reason not to go to the local clerk of courts and check the records for your prospective landlord. If the landlords have 1 or 2 evictions in the past couple of years, that is a good indication that they are not prone to filing eviction actions off the cuff. If however, you are dealing with a landlord that has 90 evictions in the past five years, that should be a red flag that the landlord is not somebody that you want to be doing business with.
Finally, if you have completed your walkthrough and have done your background checks spend some time reading the lease agreement which you might soon be signing. If you DO NOT understand everything in the lease agreement, DO NOT sign the lease. Remember that once your signature is on that line, you cannot go back and there is no three (3) day cancellation period to back out.
Oral or Rental Agreements?
A rental agreement may be written or oral. However, the firm recommends you always have a written lease agreement. Oral leases are subject to misunderstandings and if a problem arises which must go to court, will be difficult to prove. If you are a tenant or a landlord and the other side wants to just have an oral agreement, beware. If you are a landlord or a tenant who needs a lease agreement or any other form, they can be found for free at the Florida Bar website's consumer website.
Deposit and Advanced Rent
The dreaded first, last, and security issue arises in almost all landlord-tenant negotiations. The first question most tenants ask if they have an opportunity to speak with a landlord-tenant attorney is whether or not the landlord can even ask for these things. The short answer is yes.
There are pros and cons for both parties. Florida law requires a landlord collecting these amounts to do certain things with them and if they fail to do so, they may forfeit the amounts and in addition, may expose themselves to additional liability. A landlord who mindlessly asks for first, last, and security without thinking about future issues is asking for trouble. On the other hand, a landlord that does not request these amounts beforehand and under certain conditions may also be asking for trouble.
For the tenant, be sure you are able to meet the deposit requirements before moving into the unit. Also, check to make sure that you can get the money back if you are unable to take possession of the premises you are about to lease. If you are not certain of your ability to move in, you may lose the security deposit and potentially your advanced rent.
Now, remember above when we discussed walking through and noting all of the damages on the property prior to taking possession? This is why. Having a list of these damages in your files and preferably, turn that list into affidavit form and go have the document notarized at the beginning of your tenancy. That document notarized on a certain date will help you prove the pre-existing damages on the property.
When the tenancy is over, the landlord will be required to either return your deposit within a time certain OR issue an appropriate notice of intent to file a claim against the deposit. Failure to follow the fairly exact procedures can subject either party to significant monetary losses.
Landlord & Tenant Responsibilities
Landlords have varying responsibilities depending on what type of unit they are renting out. These differences are nuanced and can get complicated. Some are statutorily required and others are not. Some responsibilities can be contracted away to the tenant and others cannot. It is very important that the landlord understands what their responsibilities happen to be. Each property that is being rented out is different. If you are a landlord and happen to be unsure about your responsibilities as to the property you are renting out, please consult with a local landlord-tenant attorney. If you do not, and something goes wrong, you can be sure that your tenant will.
As a tenant, you should also know what your rights and responsibilities happen to be. You are a duty to do minor maintenance usually. Changing light bulbs, a/c filters, etc. are not just a good way to make sure the home does not get damaged, but it is also part and parcel of being a good tenant. You are usually not required to commit to major repairs such as replacing the a/c or heating unit or repairing the roof after a hurricane. You should, however, inform the landlord whenever major damage (or suspect that major damage) is happening.
The Landlord's Right to Enter the Property
When you agree to rent a property, your right to possession lines up with the homeowner. The landlord may want to enter the property and this causes a lot of strife for the tenants who develop a more adversarial relationship with the landlord. So under what circumstances can a landlord enter?
The easy one is "during an emergency." For example, if there is smoke coming from the property and nobody is answering the door the landlord may enter both to ensure your safety AND to preserve the property. At all other times, the landlord must obtain the tenant's consent OR must provide a proper notice of intent to enter to inspect, make necessary or agreed upon repairs or show the property to a potential purchaser or future tenant.
Again, the right to enter is controlled by a complicated statutory framework and as a landlord knowing when you can and cannot enter your tenant's home is very important. While the risk is low, there is an argument that entering without a valid reason can subject you to an arrest for trespassing. Why risk it? Just ask an attorney familiar with that area of the law and make sure you do everything by the book.
When Things Go South...
A lease agreement is merely a contract. What happens when one party fails to meet its obligation under the law or contract? Well, that depends on the parties. Some will resolve their differences between themselves. A quick email or text, the party in breach corrects and all is well. Others will not be so easily convinced that they are in violation. Some people, no matter what evidence is presented to them, will never admit fault. Others are just trouble makers. Bottom line, when you cannot resolve your differences there are certain steps that must be taken to "break the lease."
If you are a landlord DO NOT think that you can just have the tenant removed. Such behavior can get you into hot water with the judge if the tenant decides to file a lawsuit against you. Some landlords have thought, "Hmm... if I change the locks while they are at work.." or "if I shut off the utilities..." or something similar. If the tenant lawyers up you may be exposed to some liability. How much? Well, how much do you charge the tenant for rent? Multiply that number by 3. Whatever that amount happens to be, multiplied by the number of violations. So if you change the locks AND shut off the water and you charge $1000.00 in rent, your liability may be up to $6000.00. If you are having this much trouble with a tenant, contact a landlord-tenant attorney. Do it right.
If you are a tenant and the landlord is not repairing or maintaining the property DO NOT think you can just withhold rent until the repairs are done. You must give them notice of the damage and an opportunity to repair the damage. If the repairs are not accomplished you can then withhold the rent BUT NOT spend it. Once this matter goes to court you will be commanded to deposit the rent into the registry of the court and if you do not, you will be evicted. Again, if it has gotten this far please contact a landlord-tenant attorney and make sure you are doing this by the book.
If you are a tenant and you believe that the landlord has engaged in unfair or deceptive practices, consider filing a report with the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services. It's an online form and will assist them in collecting data on landlords who are behaving in a manner which is inconsistent with the requirements of Chapter 83, Part II.
Finally, if you would like to have a consultation with our firm, please fill out our basic online intake form here.