Here’s a primer on what you should know about your rights as a tenant in a Florida rental home
Florida is unique because it’s the winter home to a large population of “snow birds.” These people, aptly named, are often older adults who seek warm refuge in the Florida sunshine during wintry months in the Northeast.
Some snow birds own property in Florida, but many rent a unit for a few months at a time. And, of course, there are always renters—in any state—who live under a landlord/tenant agreement (known as a lease), either temporarily or permanently.
Therefore, whether you’re a Florida landlord or a tenant, it’s important to know the basics of state landlord/tenant laws. Each party has rights and responsibilities, and regardless of which side you’re on, knowing what they are can help if you’re involved in a dispute.
Florida Residential Landlord Tenant Act
The Florida Residential Landlord Tenant Act sets forth the rights and responsibilities of both landlords and tenants.
Reasonable expectations of a Florida landlord and tenant
A tenant is entitled to private and peaceful possession of a rental unit. It “belongs” to the tenant to use for legal purposes. The landlord may only enter the unit to inspect the premises or make necessary or agreed-upon repairs, and only with reasonable notice to the tenant and at a convenient time. The exception is if the landlord needs access in an emergency.
Here are some key provisions of the law:
Tenants in federally subsidized Florida housing
Tenants in Florida always have rights under state law, but if you live in federally subsidized housing, you also have rights under federal law. A written lease would set forth your rights and responsibilities, but federal law would control if there’s no written lease.
The landlord is required to ensure that the unit is habitable, or fit to be lived in. This includes:
- Plumbing, hot water and heat must be in good working order;
- The unit must be structurally sound;
- There must be reasonable security based on the area;
- Windows and doors must have working locks;
- It must include working smoke detectors;
- It must comply with health, building and safety codes; and
- It must be free from pests.
If something goes wrong during the tenancy that makes the unit uninhabitable, the landlord must repair it at their own expense.
Florida law provides that the landlord has the right to inspect the property as needed, but they must provide reasonable notice of at least 12 hours.
Compliance with rental agreement
A rental agreement, or lease, is a contract between two parties—the tenant and the landlord.
If the landlord believes the tenant has violated the terms of the lease, the landlord must inform the tenant in writing of the issue and allow the tenant time to remedy the situation. The landlord may not take the tenant to court for eviction unless the tenant has had notice to remedy the problem.
If the landlord provides a tenant the non-payment of rent notice and the tenant pays partial rent, they may still be evicted if that portion of the rent has been accepted. The tenant in an eviction proceeding always has the right to be present, argue their case and be represented by a landlord/tenant attorney.
When can the tenant withhold rent?
The tenant can only withhold rent under very specific circumstances of neglect by the landlord. If the landlord does not maintain a habitable living environment or adhere to housing codes, the tenant must provide the landlord seven days’ written notice. If the landlord does not repair the condition, the tenant could withhold rent but should seek court permission to use the money to repair the condition. The tenant could be evicted for nonpayment if they don’t preserve the money for that purpose and seek the assistance of the court.
Tenant “breaking the lease”
Every tenant should read the “fine print” on their lease agreement. Some leases require 60 days’ notice if the tenant intends to move out when the lease term ends.
If there is no written lease, the tenant must give at least seven days’ notice before the due date of the next payment if payments are made weekly or 15 days if payments are scheduled monthly.
The tenant must pay their rent on time. They must also comply with housing and health codes and keep the property free from damage aside from ordinary wear and tear. The tenant must follow applicable laws and avoid disturbing the peace.
The landlord has the right to reclaim the property at the end of the lease term undamaged and in the same condition as when it was rented, aside from normal wear and tear.
|Landlord must:||Tenant must:|
Comply with applicable housing and health codes, including providing working running water, hot water and heat
Comply with applicable housing and health codes and keep the area clean and sanitary
Maintain plumbing, roof, windows, screens, floors, steps, porches, exterior walls, foundations and other structural components
Remove garbage in a sanitary manner
Exterminate rats, mice, ants, bed bugs and other pests
Not destroy or deface the property
Provide locks and keys
Not disturb neighbors or become a breach of the peace
Provide clean and safe conditions in common areas, including garbage disposal facilities
Use electrical, plumbing, sanitary, ventilating, heating and other appliances appropriately
Can a Florida landlord force a tenant out of the premises?
No. Florida law does not allow a landlord to:
- Shut off utilities or interrupt services;
- Change locks or deny access;
- Remove outside doors, locks, windows, etc.; or
- Remove the tenant’s personal property unless it’s after the tenant has abandoned or surrendered the premises. The landlord may remove property if the last remaining tenant has died or was lawfully evicted.
If the landlord does any of these things, the tenant is permitted to file a lawsuit for actual and consequential damages or three months’ rent, whichever is higher, plus court costs and attorney’s fees.
Oral vs. written lease agreements
Florida law permits either oral or written lease agreements. However, it’s strongly advised to have a written lease. If your lease is oral, there’s a possibility of misunderstandings. In addition, you have no proof of the terms of the lease if there is ever a dispute.
Florida law does require that notice—either from landlord to tenant or tenant to landlord—is in writing and either hand-delivered or mailed.
What to do in a Florida landlord/tenant dispute
The most important aspect of any legal dispute is documenting evidence. Any communications between the landlord and tenant should be in writing and preserved to be used as proof.
If you’re a tenant who believes the landlord is not upholding their responsibilities for safe, clean, and habitable living, maintain copies of all correspondence with the landlord. If you have an in-person, verbal conversation, you should take notes with the date, time, person’s name, and the main points of the interaction.
Finally, seek the guidance of a qualified and experienced landlord/tenant attorney for assistance. Your lawyer can guide you through the legal process, work through negotiations, and advise you of your rights with respect to the tenancy.
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