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.