Landlord Statutory Obligations
So you decided to move into a rental property. Florida’s landlord tenant statutes provide specific laws to protect the tenant by statutorily requiring certain obligations of the Landlord to provide habitable conditions.
The first requirement of the landlord is to reasonably inspect the premises before allowing a tenant to take possession. During the inspection process, any item needing repair that impairs the safety or habitability of the property must be fixed. Examples include properly working plumbing, smoke detectors, windows in working condition, no leaking roof, no exposed electrical wiring and clean conditions. Generally speaking if there are local building, health and housing codes, the property must be up to those minimal standards. If the landlord fails to keep the premises reasonably safe and fit for human habitation, such failure may constitute constructive eviction.
If there are no building, health or housing codes, the landlord must maintain the roofs, windows, screens, doors, floors, steps, porches, exterior walls, foundations, and all other structural components in good repair and capable of resisting normal forces and loads and the plumbing in reasonable working condition. This is known as the landlord’s warranty of habitability. The warranty is continuous and requires the landlord to repair defects in the conditions of the rental property after the tenant takes possession, provided the tenant informs the landlord of the defect.
As a tenant, you are entitled to provide written notice to your landlord of a defective premises condition. Such written notice must be provided in good faith and not for the purposes of harassing the landlord. If within 7 days after delivery of written notice by the tenant specifying a noncompliance and the intention to terminate the rental agreement because of the unhabitable premises and the landlord makes no effort to correct the situation, the tenant may terminate the rental agreement. However, if the failure to make the premises habitable is due to causes beyond the control of the landlord and reasonable efforts have been undertaken to correct the non-compliance, the rental agreement may be terminated or the rent during the period the dwelling unit remains uninhabitable may be abated.
In addition to making and keeping the premises habitable, the landlord must make reasonable provisions to maintain the property as follows:
- The extermination of rats, mice, roaches, ants, wood-destroying organisms, and bedbugs;
- Locks and keys;
- The clean and safe condition of common areas;
- Garbage removal and outside receptacles;
- Functioning facilities for heat during winter, running water, and hot water; and,
- Smoke detectors.
You should also be aware that if your landlord demands that you vacate the premises for purposes of extermination of rats, mice or other organisms, the landlord shall give you at least 7 days notice prior to vacating the premises. Furthermore, the landlord will not be liable for damages caused by such vacation, but the landlord shall abate your rent. In the event you vacate you shall not be required to leave the premises for a period of time greater than 4 days during an extermination period.
In addition to the obligation to maintain the habitability of the premises being rented, your landlord must not participate in conduct that is retaliatory or self help in evicting you as a tenant. Some of the prohibited retaliatory acts include:
- the termination or interruption of any utility service including, but not limited to, water, heat, light, electricity, gas, elevator, garbage collection, or refrigeration, whether or not the utility service is under the control of, or payment is made by, the landlord;
- preventing a tenant from gaining reasonable access to the dwelling unit by any means, including, but not limited to, changing the locks or using any bootlock or similar device;
- discriminate against a service member in offering a dwelling unit for rent or in any of the terms of the rental agreement;
- prohibiting the display of one portable, removable, cloth or plastic United States flag, not larger than 4 and 1/2 feet by 6 feet, in a respectful manner in or on the dwelling unit regardless of any provision in the rental agreement dealing with flags or decorations;
- removal of the outside doors, locks, roof, walls, or windows of the unit except for purposes of maintenance, repair, or replacement;
If any of the above prohibited acts are violated, the landlord will be liable to the tenant for actual and consequential damages or 3 months’ rent, whichever is greater, along with costs and attorney’s fees.
All of the above conditions may be altered in writing, but not fully waived by the landlord when the premises being rented are a duplex or single family home.
Based on the above, it should be clear that the legislature has made specific provisions to protect tenants from unscrupulous landlords who fail in their duty to maintain a safe premises. By the same token, the legislature balances a tenants protection with the right of the landlord to expect timely payment as discussed in the previous weeks article. Next week we’ll discuss security deposits.