As a landlord, you have a responsibility to both your tenants and your company. One of your responsibilities is to be aware of your state's landlord-tenant laws, and to retain a lawyer when needed to ensure that you have the specific advice you need. There are five main things you should bear in mind when setting up your leases and dealing with your tenants in Florida, so as to stay on the right side of the law. Most of these things also help keep your tenants happy and reduce potentially expensive turnover.
You have specific responsibilities to your tenants, which depend on the kind of unit you are renting.
For apartments, you must provide:
- Running water, hot water, and heat during winter.
- Facilities to dispose of garbage
- Clean and safe common areas
- Locks and keys
- Pest control
For a single family home you need to keep the property in good repair, keep plumbing in good condition, maintain the roof, etc.
You also need to be aware of and comply with building, housing, and health codes. Note that while air conditioning is not legally required, providing it is likely to make units in Florida much easier to rent and can allow you to charge a slightly higher rent. This does not mean you have to pay for utilities; it primarily means that you have to make repairs in as timely a manner as possible, ensure that in buildings where central heat and air need to be switched over seasonally that the switch happens at a reasonable time, keep common areas clean, etc. It also means that you can't shut off the utilities or change the locks to force a tenant out. Tenants may withhold rent or move out without penalty if you don't come into compliance within seven days.
However, tenants are expected to use facilities and appliances responsibly, avoid disturbing the neighbors, not do deliberate damage to the property, keep plumbing clean and remove garbage promptly and properly.
Lease Termination and Eviction
No landlord wants to evict a tenant, but sometimes you have no choice. Under Florida law you can only terminate a lease if the tenant breaks the lease agreement significantly or the lease has come up for renewal. You also need to give notice as follows:
- 7 days for a weekly lease
- 15 days for a monthly lease
- 30 days for a quarterly lease
- 60 days for a yearly lease
Note that these requirements also apply to tenants, unless your tenant is in the armed services. In that case they can break the lease immediately if they are redeployed.
You can evict a tenant if they do not fix the violation concerned within seven days, although you can give them longer. For non-payment, you have to give a notice that tells them to pay or leave. You have to give them three business days to pay before you can begin legal action. You will have to file suit in county court and go through the legal process. As already mentioned, you can't try to force a tenant out by changing the locks or similar actions.
There is no state-wide legal limit on the amount you can set for a security deposit, and amounts thus tend to be set by market forces. However, you should check that your municipality has not set a cap for residential rentals. Typically, one to two months rent is normal. You have to place the deposit in a non-interest or interest-bearing account, or purchase a surety bond. If the deposit earns interest, you have to return the interest to the tenant as well. Additionally, you have to pay them any interest earned. In other words, there's no direct benefit to you from putting the deposit in an interest-bearing account, except that it might attract tenants in high rent properties which have a particularly high security deposit. You can pay the interest back as a rent credit. You have to notify them in writing within 30 days of receiving the deposit, and within 30 days of moving the deposit to a different account.
When they move out, you have 15 days to return the security deposit if you are not taking any deductions or 60 if you are. You can only take deductions to cover unpaid rent, to cover damage that isn't normal wear and tear, or to deal with another violation of the lease agreement. You have to tell the tenant exactly why you are keeping part or all of their deposit, and they have 15 days to contest it, in writing. Bear in mind that if they do contest a deduction it can go to court, which could cost you more than the damage. In other words, make sure that you are being reasonable about deductions. You might want to come up with a chart for what is, and is not, considered reasonable wear and tear that tenants can also look at so they know what they might be on the hook for.
Right of Entry
Landlords waltzing into units is often a cause of contention between landlords and tenants. Most states have laws to reduce these conflicts, and Florida is no exception. In Florida, tenants have the right to "quiet enjoyment" in their home. In Florida, you need to give at least 12 hours warning for most entries, such as to repair damage or put out pesticides. You also have to enter at a reasonable time, which generally means between the hours of 7:30am and 8pm. Many landlords provide 24 hours notice. There are four exceptions to this:
- The tenant is absent for half or more of the time between rental payments without having given you notice. It is reasonable to ask tenants to notify you if they will be out of town for more than a few days.
- In case of emergency, such as fire or plumbing causing damage to other units.
- With the tenant's consent.
- If the tenant is withholding consent "unreasonably." Unfortunately, this is not well defined, but essentially it means that if the tenant keeps saying that it's not a good time, you may be able to enter without permission.
In general, it's best to err on the side of giving more notice, and while 7:30am is a reasonable time for many people, it may not be for others. For smaller buildings it's reasonable to negotiate with tenants about what they consider reasonable.
Florida's state laws match the Federal Fair Housing Act, which means you can't discriminate based off of the following protected classes: Handicap, race, national origin, color, religion, sex, or familial status. You cannot create different rules for people based off of a protected class, retaliate against tenants who exercise their rights, limit tenant access to common areas, bar them from memberships, prevent them from inspecting, renting, or negotiating for housing. 'Familial status' means that you cannot discriminate against pregnant women or families with children. You must accommodate service animals or emotional support animals even if you have a no pets policy. You also cannot charge a pet deposit for service animals and may not be able to charge damage to the security deposit when they move out. You can, however, request proof of disability.
Florida does not offer protections based off of sexual orientation, marital status, source of income, or other factors, although being caught discriminating can potentially affect your public relations.
The law says you cannot retaliate against tenants who make complaints or created or supported a tenant's union. Examples might include attempting to evict the tenant, increasing the tenant's rent, not making needed repairs, harassment or intimidation or denying services to the tenant. This does not cover tenants who have legitimately violated the lease or not paid rent. The point is that they have the right to complain if you have not met your obligations, the right to complain about or report health or safety violations, etc.
You should continue to treat tenants fairly even if they have become a pain in the neck. If a tenant sues you, you will have to prove that your action was not retaliation, but your tenant also has to prove that they were discriminated against. It's best to do your best to avoid getting into these kinds of situations in the first place.
Florida requires that you disclose certain things about the rent in the lease agreement. Specifically, you need to be up front with:
- The amount of the rent.
- When rent is due, especially if it is not the normal first of the month.
- What forms of payment you accept.
- Where the rent should be paid.
- What the grace period is before rent is due. Many landlords offer a 5 to 7 day grace period to cover tenants who may be paid on the 31st and need to wait for the check to clear. Florida law does not, however, require this.
- Whether you charge late fees.
You do not need to give notice for each rental period. Tenants are expected to pay their rent on time. Florida has no specific laws about how much notice you need to give to increase rent.
So, that's the basics. However, as already said, it's a good idea to seek legal advice and have a lawyer look over your boilerplate lease agreement before anyone signs it. If you need help with, for example, ways for your tenants to pay rent and submit maintenance requests online, then contact VerticalRent today. Our rental property management software can help you keep everything organized, and in compliance with the law.
About the author
Matt Angerer is the Founder and President of VerticalRent. He enjoys writing on a variety of topics that help Landlords, Property Managers, and Renters across America. He is particularly interested in helping renters understand their local marketplace, pick the best places to live, and find an awesome roommate. Since 2011, VerticalRent has grown to service over 100,000 landlords and renters across America.