Knowledge is Power: Get the Facts about Landlord-Tenant Agreements

As an attorney, I’ve heard from landlords who don’t know what to do when nightmare tenants fall way behind on rent payments, refuse to vacate, and even purposely destroy rental property. I’ve also heard from frustrated tenants whose landlords don’t respond to calls about leaky pipes, broken air conditioners and other property they are bound by law to keep in good repair.

Even in the absence of a written lease, a paying tenant and a landlord each have rights and responsibilities. In the State of Florida, those rights and responsibilities are governed now by Chapter 83 of the 2016 Florida Statutes. Requirements vary for residential tenancies, non-residential tenancies, and self-service storage space. This article addresses important facts about residential tenancies.

Whether you are a planning to rent a home, condo, apartment, or other dwelling—or if you are a landlord seeking trustworthy tenants—here are a half dozen rules you need to know.

  1. Rent is due whether or not you receive a notice. Unless otherwise agreed, rent must be paid even in the absence of an additional demand or notice. Periodic rent is payable at the beginning of each rent payment period, and rent may be uniformly apportioned from day to day.
  1. Duration is based on payment terms. In the absence of a written lease, tenancy duration is determined by the periods when rent is due. If the rental agreement contains no written provision as to duration of tenancy, duration shall be deemed year to year, quarter to quarter, month to month, or week to week, based on the period at which rent is payable. For example, if a tenant pays rent weekly, the term of the lease would be deemed week to week; if a tenant pays monthly, the assumption is the agreement extends from month to month.
  1. Not all lease provisions are legal. Certain provisions are prohibited from inclusion in a rental agreement. A provision is void and unenforceable if it attempts to waive or preclude the rights, legal remedies, or requirements set forth under the law; if it purports to limit or preclude any liability of the landlord to the tenant or of the tenant to the landlord, arising under law. And, if such a void and unenforceable provision is included in a rental agreement after the effective date and either party suffers actual damages as a result of the inclusion, the aggrieved party may recover damages sustained.
  1. The winner of a landlord-tenant suit may recover attorney fees. In any civil action brought to enforce the provisions of the rental agreement, the party in whose favor a judgment or decree is rendered may recover reasonable attorney fees and court costs from the non-prevailing party. The right to attorney fees may not be waived in a lease agreement (See rule 3 above). However, attorney fees may not be awarded in a claim for personal injury damages based on a breach of duty under laws governing a landlord’s obligation to maintain premises. If you have questions about provisions in a rental agreement you are reviewing, consult an experienced attorney for advice.
  1. Know the landlord’s obligation. A landlord must comply with all building, housing and health codes, and must maintain the roofs, windows, doors, floors, steps, porches, exterior walls, foundations and all other structural components in good repair. Dwelling components must be capable of resisting normal forces and loads, and plumbing must be in reasonable working condition. At the start of a tenancy, the landlord also must ensure that screens are installed and in reasonable condition. Thereafter, the landlord must repair damage to screens once annually, when needed, until termination of the rental agreement.
  1. Don’t rely solely on the word of landlords, rental agents, or other renters. Before signing a rental agreement, it may help to consult an experienced attorney who can help you protect your rights. As the saying goes, good fences make good neighbors. Likewise, a well written lease and a good eye for detail can help protect the rights of both landlords and tenants, as well as the relationships they enjoy.

Stay tuned for upcoming articles on landlord-tenant law.

 

 

High Profile Judgment against Gawker Media Group Illuminates the Bankruptcy Process

When The Wall Street Journal (WSJ) reported (08.16.16) that Univision Communications, Inc. won a court-administered auction of assets belonging to Gawker Media Group , I thought this case perfectly illustrated how the Chapter 11 bankruptcy process works. For example …

A Single or Series of Disastrous Financial Incidents Disrupts a Company
In this case, a court order to pay a $140 million court award to Hulk Hogan—following his invasion-of-privacy suit against Gawker Media Group—led to a very costly legal battle and outcome. This judgment followed a series of prior financial claims that also weakened the media company.

The Debtor Files for Financial Relief
Gawker Media Group filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy relief. When a Chapter 11 bankruptcy petition is filed, the court appoints a bankruptcy case trustee to oversee the process. The bankruptcy trustee works with the debtor and/or debtor’s attorney to review company assets, assess liabilities, review creditor claims and decide whether and how assets will be liquefied (sold and distributed) to repay creditors. The bankruptcy plan typically relieves the debtor of a portion of financial obligations while also structuring options to repay creditors.

Before the trial, Gawker founder Nick Denton estimated the company’s value at $250 million, but during the proceedings, the jury was told the company was worth $83 million. The bankruptcy trustee’s job was to review all financial data provided to the court and assess all submitted documentation to determine the accuracy of claims about debtor assets.

A trustee typically works with the debtor’s attorney to ensure that secured creditors are repaid and non-secured debt is appropriately resolved according to the debtor’s ability to pay.

In this case, Gawker listed 20 unsecured creditors, including Mr. Hogan.

The Court Sets a Date for Auction of the Debtor’s Assets

After assets are established, the bankruptcy trustee schedules an auction to transform liquifiable assets into funds to repay creditors. In this case, publisher Ziff Davis offered $90 million for Gawker, “but withdrew its offer based on the price and terms set by the court.” In the end, Univision bid $135 million, according to the WSJ report, and will not be responsible for payment of the Hogan lawsuit.

The Bankruptcy Trustee Reviews the Auction Results and Decides Whether to Approve the Bid(s)

At the time of the WSJ report, the trustee still had to approve the sale. After the terms of a bankruptcy sale are made public, and before the judge issues a final decree, the creditors (secured and unsecured) are given an opportunity to review and object to details of the sale. The bankruptcy trustee gathers all creditor responses, then makes recommendations to the court. Finally, the bankruptcy court judge makes the decision to approve the bankruptcy and liquidation.

In the above case, “proceeds from the sale will be used to pay Gawker’s creditors, finance further litigation costs, and cover whatever damages may ultimately be leveled following appeals,” wrote Lukas I. Alpert in WSJ.

Resolution of this Case

Final details would be determined by the courts. In prior court action (before the Chapter 11 corporate bankruptcy filing), “Mr. Denton (Gawker founder) was found personally liable for $10 million of the Hogan judgment and jointly liable, along with former Gawker editor A.J. Daulerio, for $115 million of the verdict levied against the company.” Mr. Denton then sought personal bankruptcy protection earlier this month to freeze collection actions from Hulk Hogan.

For more information on this case, read the WSJ article in full. If you are contemplating a personal bankruptcy (Chapter 7 or Chapter 13) and would like information to determine whether bankruptcy is the right option for you, feel free to contact Solomita Law for a complimentary consultation.