RIGHTS AND DUTIES OF TENANTS
When a person pays rent to live in a house, apartment, condominium or mobile home, the renter becomes a tenant governed by Florida law. It doesn’t matter whether payment is made weekly, monthly or at other regular periods. Also, it doesn’t matter whether the apartment, house, condominium or mobile home is rented from a private person, a corporation or most governmental units. These facts are true even when there is no written “lease” agreement.
A tenant has certain rights and responsibilities under Florida law. These are specified in the Florida Statutes at Part II, Chapter 83, the Florida Residential Landlord Tenant Act. A tenant in federally subsidized rental housing has rights under federal law, as well. If there is no written lease, these laws regulate the tenant’s rights. There also may be a written lease that could affect a tenant’s rights. If there is a written lease, it should be carefully reviewed. The Florida Residential Landlord Tenant Act prevails over what the lease says.
A tenant is entitled to the right of private, peaceful possession of the dwelling. Once rented, the dwelling is the tenant’s to lawfully use. The landlord may enter the dwelling only in order to inspect the premises or to make necessary or agreed upon repairs, but then only if the landlord gives the tenant reasonable notice and comes at a convenient time. If an emergency exists, the requirement for notice may be shortened or waived.
The landlord is required to rent a dwelling that is fit to be lived in. It must have working plumbing, hot water and heating, be structurally sound and have reasonable security, including working and locking doors and windows, and it must be free of pests. The landlord also must comply with local health, building and safety codes. If the landlord has to make repairs to make the dwelling fit to live in, the landlord must pay.
If the landlord contends that the tenant has violated the rental agreement, the landlord must inform the tenant in writing of the specific problem and give the tenant time to correct the problem – even if the problem is nonpayment of rent – before the landlord can go to court to have the tenant removed. Tenants receiving a nonpayment-of-rent notice should be aware that a landlord may accept part of the rent owed and still evict the tenant. Tenants renting condominiums should be aware that, in certain circumstances, the condominium association may demand that the tenant pay the rent to the association instead of the landlord. Tenants should consult an attorney in this case. If the tenant commits a serious act endangering the property (such as committing a crime on the premises) or fails to correct a problem after written notice from the landlord, the landlord still must go to court to be permitted to evict the tenant. In any court proceeding, tenants have the absolute right to be present, argue their case and be represented by an attorney.
If the landlord requires the tenant to pay a security deposit, the landlord must preserve the deposit during the tenancy. In addition, the landlord must return the full amount of the deposit within 15 days after the tenant leaves the dwelling or give the tenant written notice of why some or all of it won’t be returned within 30 days after the tenant leaves the dwelling. The tenant then has the right to object in writing within 15 days of receipt of the notice. Under some circumstances, the tenant may receive the security deposit plus interest. Before moving out, the tenant must provide the landlord with an address for receipt of the security deposit, or else the tenant may lose the right to object if the landlord claims the right to keep the deposit money.
The tenant has the right, under certain very aggravated circumstances caused by the landlord’s neglect, to withhold rent. This can be done only when the landlord fails to comply with an important responsibility, such as providing a safe and habitable home in compliance with local housing codes. Before rent is withheld, the tenant must give the landlord seven days’ written notice of the problem so the landlord can fix it. Even after withholding rent, the tenant should save the money and seek court permission to spend part of it to do what the landlord should have done. If the tenant does not preserve the money and seek court assistance, the tenant may be evicted for nonpayment.
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