According to Florida Advocate, the Sunshine State is currently undergoing a "housing emergency" that threatens the health and safety of millions of Floridians. Along with exploding rent prices, much of the housing emergency also stems from unsafe housing or underhanded renting practices. What happens if you are a Florida renter who encounters a slumlord? Here are some possible repercussions.
What are my Rights?
Before filing any type of complaint, you should first be able to establish that your rights have been violated. Hence, knowing what your rights are under Florida law are essential. Tenant's rights are spelled out in the Florida Statutes, Part II, Chapter 83, which is better known as the Florida Residential Landlord Tenant Act.
A few rights you have according to this act include:
- The right to peaceful enjoyment of your property. Wherever possible, your landlord should provide you with advance notice of his or her intent to enter the dwelling to make repairs or conduct other business.
- Fit living conditions. The dwelling you rent must be structurally sound and contain working heat, hot water, and plumbing. It must also be free from pests and generally secure (good working door and window locks, etc.)
- Meet building code requirements. Your landlord is responsible for complying with all local health, safety, and building codes, and must make any necessary repairs or upgrades at his own expense.
- Notification in writing- Florida landlords are required to provide written notice to tenants for issues such as nonpayment of rent or the violation of certain lease terms. You must also be provided a reasonable amount of time to comply with violations.
- Preservation of a security deposit-Security deposits must be deposited into a safe account and returned within 15 days of you vacating a property. When withholding certain portions of a deposit, landlords must provide a written reason why within 30 days of your leaving.
- The right to vacate the premises. You may terminate your lease by providing written notice to your landlord at least seven days before your next payment is due. This is provided that the terms of your lease do not specify a different timeframe.
Asserting your Rights under Florida law
If you believe any of the above rights have been violated, you must first notify your landlord in writing. You may do so by hand delivering a letter or by placing it in regular postal mail. There may be times when you wish to terminate a lease because certain provisions have not been met. If that is the case, then your written notice should state that you intend to end your lease agreement unless the landlord complies within seven days after receiving your written notice.
Withholding Rent in Florida
Tenants are sometimes authorized to withhold rent whenever landlords fail to keep their properties in a safe, habitable condition. This can include performing storm damage cleanup following a hurricane.
When withholding rent, you must also provide written notice as to your intention to do so. Keep in mind that this type of correspondence often results in a landlord providing a three-day notice. In other words, your landlord may deny there is a problem and claim that unless you pay rent, he or she will retake the property within 3 days.
First Steps Toward Complaint Resolution
What happens if you provide your landlord with written notice and this fails to resolve the problem? In that case, you may have no other choice but to file a complaint. The Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services is responsible for regulating a number of industries within the state, and oversees landlord and tenant disputes. To file a complaint with this agency, you can:
- Submit an online Consumer Complaint Form
- Call the agency directly at 1-800-435-7352
- Chat with a representative during normal business hours
- Make an in-person visit at 400 South Monroe Street, Plaza Level 10, The Capitol, Tallahassee, Florida 32399.
Senior Housing Complaints
Florida is unique in that it has more senior adult residents than any other state. To ensure their rights are protected, the state has developed the Florida Department of Elder Affairs(DOEA). When it comes to housing, this agency deals primarily with nursing homes. Even so, they may also handle complaints related to any other form of senior housing. Fill out the online request for assistance so that someone can contact you regarding the matter.
Those age 60 and over who need help representing themselves in landlord/tenant disputes can take advantage of the DOEA's legal services. Through the Senior Legal Helpline, older adults may schedule a free telephone consultation with an attorney or paralegal. The agency sometimes makes referrals to other legal providers who offer free or low-cost representation as well. To reach the Senior Legal Helpline, call 888-895-7893.
Reporting Landlords for Building Code Violations
As mentioned, Florida landlords are required to maintain their properties in accordance with all local building code requirements. Depending on where you are in the state, this can amount to pretty strict criteria for landlords to meet. For example, Miami-Dade County is known for having some of the most stringent building codes of any county in the country, mostly due to its proximity to hurricanes.
If you believe your landlord is noncompliant, you first step would be to contact your local code enforcement authority. This is normally the Building Department at your local courthouse. Alternatively, you may also contact the Florida Department of Building and Professional Regulation (DBPR). The DPBR handles matters related to building codes, and can be reached at:
2601 Blair Stone Road
Tallahassee, Florida 32399
Reporting Fair Housing Violations
The Florida Fair Housing Act makes it illegal for landlords to discriminate on tenants based upon their race, gender, nationality, disability, familial status, or pregnancy. Landlords are also prohibited from retaliating, coercing, or intimidating any tenant who exercises a right under this act.
The Florida Commission on Human Relations (FCHR) handles complaints of discrimination under Florida's Fair Housing Act. To make a complaint, call or write the agency within one year of the alleged violation. FCHR's Housing Unit is responsible for handling complaints, and can be reached at:
4075 Esplanade Way
Tallahassee, Florida, 32399
Exceptions to Fair Housing Complaints
The FCHR handles fair housing complaints throughout the state of Florida, with a few exceptions. For example, some counties and cities have set up their own local agencies to deal with these matters. If you live in Broward, Duval, Palm Beach, or Pinellas Counties, you will need to contact your local office first. This is also true if you are a tenant anywhere within the cities of Orlando or Tampa.
Local Fair Housing contacts include:
Broward County, Florida
Broward County Office of Equal Opportunity
115 South Andrews Avenue
Fort Lauderdale, Florida 33301-1883
Duval County, Florida
Jacksonville Human Rights Commission
117 West Duval Street
Jacksonville, Florida 32202
Palm Beach County, Florida
Palm Beach County Office of Equal Opportunity
301 North Olive Avenue
West Palm Beach, Florida 33401
Pinellas County, Florida
Pinellas County Office of Human Rights
400 South Fort Harrison Avenue
Clearwater, Florida 33756
City of Orlando, Florida
City of Orlando Office of Human Relations
400 South Orange Avenue
Orlando, Florida 32801
City of Tampa, Florida
City of Tampa Office of Human Rights
306 E. Jackson Street
Tampa, Florida 33602
Housing and Urban Development Complaints
Finally, the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) handles fair housing complaints as well as those related to slumlords in federal housing. Depending upon the violation, your landlord could be fined or even barred from doing any further business with the federal government.
FHEO Atlanta Regional Office
United States Department of Housing and Urban Development
Five Points Plaza
40 Marietta Street
Atlanta, Georgia 30303
Phone: (404) 331-5140
Toll Free: (800) 440-8091
Hearing Impaired: TTY (404) 730-2654
Email address for civil rights complaints: ComplaintsOffice04@hud.gov
Bad Landlords in Federal Housing
To file a complaint against a slumlord in federal housing, contact the Department of Housing and Urban Development's Multifamily Housing Complaint Line. The number to reach is (800) MULTI-70, or (800) 685-8470.
Manufactured Housing Complaints
HUD is also responsible for maintaining standards for manufactured housing. If you have questions or concerns related to manufactured housing, you can contact the national office of HUD at:
Manufactured Housing and Standards Division
Office of Consumer and Regulatory Affairs
Department of Housing and Urban Development
451 7th St. SW, Room 9152
Washington, D.C. 20410-8000
Florida's unique weather and population demographics leave many people vulnerable to unscrupulous landlords. Fortunately, relief is available when you follow this guide to reporting slumlords in Florida. To find out more, please contact us.