What should I know about Landlord/Tenant disputes?

What is a Landlord/Tenant Dispute?

If you are a tenant, you have rights regarding the condition of the property, the period of the lease, and the rent you pay. If you are a landlord, you have certain rights and obligations regarding your property, your tenants, and the rent they pay you.

What should you do?

Contact a lawyer
Get legal advice before a court action or an administrative action has begun. Especially in cases involving evictions or payment of back rent, you’ll benefit from having an attorney experienced in the nuances of local landlord-tenant laws.

What are our fees

Most cases are handled on an hourly basis with a retainer paid up front.

The Florida Residential Landlord and Tenant Act

If you are reading this, and are therefore ‘on-line’, you are encouraged to find the answers to most of your questions regarding tenancies in part II of Chapter 83 of Florida Statutes:

Chapter 83
Landlord and Tenant

Rental agreements require specific rules to be followed by landlords and tenants. They must be compatible with the landlord tenant statue. That means the agreements cannot take away or limit the rights given by law.

If you go to court over a disputed rental agreement, the Court has the power to cancel the entire agreement, enforce the agreement without the unfair or illegal clauses, or simply restrict the enforcement of such provisions. It can also empower either party to collect damages.

Proper notice of violations by either the landlord or tenant is critical. To make sure you are notified as a tenant of any violations of your rental agreement, make sure at the start of the rental agreement the landlord knows where he is supposed to send notices and demands in his behalf. As a landlord, you should hold the tenant to the same standard. You must let him know where he is to send notices to you. This should be done at the start of the rental agreement and should be put in writing.

Length of Tenancy/ Legal Notice to Vacate

According to the law, though, rental agreements may be in writing or may be oral, but they may only be oral if for a period of less than one year.

Generally, the length of your tenancy is spelled out in the rental agreement itself.

However, if the rental agreement does not include such a provision, the length of tenancy is then determined by the periods for which the rent is paid.

Thus, in Florida if the rent is payable weekly, the tenancy is considered week to week; if payable monthly, then the tenancy is from month to month; if payable quarterly, from quarter to quarter, and if paid annually or yearly, then your tenancy is from year to year.

This is an important consideration because it determines what kind of notice you must be given if asked to vacate the premises.

This type of rental arrangement is referred to in the law as a ‘tenancy without specific term’. It can be ended by either the Landlord or the Tenant giving the following advance written notice:

When the tenancy is from week to week, by giving at least seven days written notice before the end of any weekly period.

When the tenancy is from month to month, by giving at least 15 days written notice before the end of any monthly period.

When the tenancy is from quarter to quarter, by giving at least 30 days written notice before the end of any quarterly period.

When the tenancy is from year to year, by giving at least 60 days written notice before the end of any annual period

A tenancy without specific term permits the tenant to more or less determine the length of the rental. But it gives the landlord the same freedom. So if a tenant refuses to move after receiving the proper advance written notice, the landlord can file in county court both to evict the tenant and to collect double rent for the period during which the tenant refuse to surrender possession.

Advance Rents and Deposits

Many landlords require tenants to pay advance rent. You understand it as first, last, and security.

Under the law, this money is applied to cover future rent periods and does not include rent paid in advance for a current rent payment period. Usually, if a tenant decides to leave before the end of the lease or rental period, this money is neither returned to the tenant nor is the landlord obligated to apply it to another month’s rent.

In addition to advance rent, tenants are often required to replace deposits on apartments they lease, This is perfectly lawful, and the funds can be used by the landlord to cover not only possible physical damages to a unit, but also monetary damages suffered by the landlord in the event the rental vacates or abandons the premises prior to the expiration of the lease. Under certain circumstances landlords might be required to pay interest on these deposits. Check with your lawyer if it becomes an issue.

Return of Deposits

No issue sets a tenant off more than a return of his deposit.

Under Florida law, when a tenant leaves his unit at the end of the lease, the landlord has 15 days in which to either:

a) Return the deposit in full, or b) notify the tenant in writing, by certified mail, of his intention to place a claim on the deposit. This notice is to be sent to the tenant’s last known mailing address.

A landlord who fails to give the required notice within the 15 day period loses the right to place a claim on the rental deposit.

Once served with a notice indicating the landlord intends to place a claim on the security deposit, the tenant has 15 days to raise objections to the claim. He too must notify the landlord in writing at his proper address.

If the tenant does not object to the claim, the landlord is required to deduct the amount of the claim and refund the balance of the deposit within 30 days after the date the landlord first advised the tenant of his intention to place a claim on the security deposit.

And if there is a dispute? Well, if the landlord refuses to give the tenant the amount of deposit back to which the tenant feels he is entitle, the issue will have to be resolved through court action. If court action is necessary, generally, upon the court’s discretion, the prevailing party is entitled to reasonable attorney’s fees and court costs.

Breaking/Terminating Your Lease

Well, first of all, be real careful. A tenant who leaves a unit before the end of a written or verbal lease must advise the landlord according to the procedure specified in the rental agreement.

If no procedure has been established, the law requires the tenant give the landlord at least seven days advance written notice, sent by certified mail. Fail to do this and you may forfeit your security deposit and be liable for continuing rents. Of course, even if you give adequate notice, you breaking a lease may give the landlord rights not only to keep your security deposit, but sue you as well for monetary damages that he may suffer by your actions in leaving or abandoning the premises. You could be liable for the rental for as long as the premises is vacant during the term of your lease even if you are no longer living there.

Similarly, a tenant who seeks to end a lease because the landlord does not adequately maintain the property as required by law or the rental agreement may have certain limited remedies. See your lawyer about what they might me.

The law is very specific about the procedures a tenant has to follow to withhold rent.

But almost always you must give seven days written notice of your intention to do so, and uniformly you must deposit the disputed amount of your rental monies with the registry of the court before or immediately after the landlord institutes eviction proceedings. If you do not, the landlord will win by default.

Hiring a Lawyer

The law offices of Kent and Cormican do handle tenancy litigations and we can be reached at 954-763-1900. Realistically, though, litigation can be more expensive than the amounts you are fighting about. If the landlord is holding $150 of your deposit wrongfully, it may not pay to hire a lawyer at $250 an hour to contest it. Try working it out with your landlord whenever possible. If it is economically impractical to consult with an attorney, you will be glad to know that the Broward County Clerk’s Office provides all the forms for tenant evictions and very explicit instruction sheets to assist the non lawyer in processing their claims and grievances. So call them for information as well.