RIGHTS AND DUTIES OF LANDLORDS

If you rent a house, apartment, condominium or mobile home to another person, you enter into a legal contract known as a rental agreement. This rental agreement need not be in writing. If the rental agreement is in writing, it is a “lease.” This agreement has certain basic conditions specified by law, and you should understand them before you enter into the agreement. As a landlord, you have certain rights; you also have certain duties. Even in the absence of a written lease, the law imposes duties and gives rights to the parties.

Your obvious right as a landlord is to receive rent for the use of the property.

Another important right is to have your property returned to you undamaged at the end of the agreement. It should be returned in the same condition in which it was received, except for ordinary wear and tear.

In return for these rights, it is your duty to provide a home that is safe and meets housing code requirements, and to make reasonable repairs when necessary. The obligations can be limited sometimes under the lease. It is also your duty to respect the tenant’s rights. One of the most important of these is the right of peaceful possession. By renting to the tenant, you give that tenant the possession and use of your property free from interference. That means that you may not enter the home frequently, at odd hours or without notice. Rights relating to reasonable inspection are often set forth in a written rental agreement, as well as in Florida law. You have a right to protect your property through inspection, but you must give a reasonable notice of at least 12 hours. You don’t have the right to show the property to possible buyers without notice to and agreement of the tenants.

It is unlawful for a landlord to increase a tenant’s rent or decrease services to a tenant in a discriminatory manner, or threaten to bring an action for possession or other civil action primarily in retaliation against the tenant. Retaliation may be presumed if it occurs after a tenant has complained about housing conditions. It is also unlawful for a landlord to lock the tenant out, intercept or shut off utilities, water or electric services to the tenant, or remove tenant’s property, doors or appliances from the home. A landlord who does this can be ordered to pay a tenant damages in the amount of three months’ rent, or actual damages, whichever is greater.

To end the tenancy, if the unit has no written rental agreement or if the lease does not state otherwise and is rented on a month-to-month basis, you must give at least 15 days’ notice in writing before the end of any monthly period; a week-to-week rental period requires seven days’ notice before the end of any weekly period. Any such notice must be in writing and should be delivered personally to the tenant, but it may be posted at the door if tenant is absent from the premises. If the written rental agreement requires that the tenant give notice of up to 60 days before leaving the unit, the landlord is required to give the tenant the same notice period that there is no intention to renew the lease. Tenants renting a foreclosed home that is sold to a new owner must receive at least 30 days’ written notice to vacate the residence after the certificate of title has issued in the foreclosure.

Finally, both the landlord and the tenant have the duty to observe state and local laws concerning the use and condition of the property.

The basic rights and duties mentioned here apply whether or not the agreement between the landlord and the tenant is in writing. A written agreement is best because it serves as a memorandum of other terms and conditions such as restrictions on the number of adults or children or types of pets to be allowed. And if you wish to provide for lease terms of one year or more, the agreement must be in writing to be enforceable.

If the tenant permanently moves out before the end of the rental term and leaves your property vacant, this usually is considered to be an abandonment of the tenant’s rights. The law presumes an abandonment if the tenant is absent for at least 15 days without previously notifying you of an intent to be absent. After abandonment, you may then re-enter the dwelling unit. The rights and remedies often are complex, and you should consider legal advice or assistance.

The situation is more complicated if the tenant seems to have gone away but has left some personal property on the premises or there is a considerable amount of unpaid rent. In such a case, you should consult an attorney before trying to dispose of the tenant’s possessions or re-renting the property.

Another complicated problem occurs when a tenant fails to pay the rent or refuses to move out at the end of the rental term. Under these circumstances you may evict the tenant, but only after you have taken the proper legal steps to commence an action for possession according to a very specific timetable. You must serve proper notice or notices on the tenant to terminate this rental agreement. If the tenant ignores these notices, you are next required to file a complaint in court and have the tenant properly served with a summons and complaint. Five business days after the complaint is served, you may request the court to set a date for a hearing. However, if the tenant fails to answer the complaint within the five business days or fails to pay the rent that is due then, you can proceed to eviction without having a hearing first, though you must get a court order before evicting the tenant.

If the tenant disputes the amount of rent that is due, the rent does not have to be deposited at the court and a hearing must be held. If you wish to collect money damages from the tenant, you must wait 20 days to set a hearing on damages. At the hearing, you can ask that the tenant be evicted. If the judge agrees that the tenant has violated the terms of the agreement, a sheriff will serve an eviction notice on the tenant. The tenant now has 24 hours to get out of your property, or the sheriff can return to remove the tenant and supervise the removal of the tenant’s belongings. Because these proceedings are so technical, it is wise to have them handled by an attorney. Even if you decide to file the claim yourself in county court, you should have an attorney review the notices you have given and the ways you have served them to make sure you have properly observed all of the necessary requirements of the timetable. A single mistake can result in serious delay in your regaining possession of the property.

Because the landlord/tenant relationship is a legal contract, you should understand its various provisions before you rent your property to anyone. Remember that, as a landlord, you will be required to provide living quarters that are safe and keep them in good repair. Your obligations for repairs can sometimes be limited under the lease. You will have to turn over possession of the property to the tenant, free from unnecessary interference from you. In return, you may collect rent and, on reasonable notice or in cases of emergency, may inspect the property. At the end of the rental term, the property must be returned to you with no damage beyond ordinary wear and tear. The landlord has certain duties to account for or refund tenant deposits upon termination of the tenancy. Many of these basic conditions apply whether or not there is a written agreement.

If you believe you need legal advice, call your attorney. If you do not have an attorney, call The Florida Bar Lawyer Referral Service at (800) 342-8011, or contact a local lawyer referral service or legal aid office.