Tenants can withhold rent until certain repairs are made – as long as it's done properly.
The roof in your apartment is leaking, and your landlord is dragging his feet on making repairs. Can you withhold the rent money until he does?
Florida tenants have a legal right to live in rental properties that are in good repair and meet basic health, structural, and safety standards. If your landlord doesn't take care of important maintenance like a leaky roof, you may withhold rent until the repairs are made – as long as you do it properly.
What is my landlord obligated to provide me?
Landlords must comply with your city or county's health, building, and housing codes. They must keep your home in good repair, but that has very specific meaning under Florida law. Despite the Florida heat, your landlord is not obligated to provide you with A/C. But your landlord fails to meet housing code standards if your home:
- needs repairs to the roof, windows, screens, doors, floors, steps, porches, exterior walls, or foundation
- is infested with rodents or bugs
- has no running or hot water
- has no heat during the winter
- is not provided with garbage removal
- includes outside property that is not clean or safe
There is an exception: the landlord may transfer all or some of these responsibilities to you in your lease, so it is important to read and understand that document. It is also your responsibility to inform your landlord promptly when these repairs need to be made.
What can I do if my landlord doesn't obey the housing codes?
You have the right to stop paying rent until your landlord makes a reasonable effort to correct the problems in your home that violate the housing codes. But – read this carefully – you must follow the proper procedures for your actions to be legal:
- Florida law mandates that tenants give landlords a seven-day written notice that rent will be withheld if any of the above problems aren't rectified. The notice should either be delivered by certified mail or handed over in person with a witness present seven days before the rent is due. If you are sending your notice by mail, you must add five days for mailing and send it 12 days before the rent is due.
- Be sure to keep a copy.
- If you are already behind in your rent, you cannot give notice or withhold rent.
- Before you send notice, consider calling your city or county housing code enforcement office to request a free housing code inspection. The inspector will issue a written report detailing housing code violations that you can attach to your written notice.
What should I do with my rent money?
Withholding does not equal never paying, so do not spend your rent money. You must give it to your landlord as soon as the repairs are substantially completed. You also may have to give to it the court to hold if the landlord tries to evict you after you stop paying rent. If you followed the correct procedure, the copy of your written seven-day notice will be your defense in court.
What should I do if I get an eviction notice?
It is wise to seek legal advice right away – you only have five working days to file an answer to an eviction notice or you lose your right to defend yourself. If you respond promptly, you have a ready legal defense – the court is obligated to deny retaliatory evictions, or evictions that are a direct result of tenants reporting housing code violations.
Florida law grants tenants the right to live in rental properties that are well-maintained, and to withhold rent until certain repairs are made. But remember, this tactic will only be upheld in court if your complaint is actually a housing code violation, and you properly follow Florida's rule to give your landlord seven days' notice to cure defects. If the court finds that your actions were not warranted, your landlord might be entitled to recover attorney's fees and costs. A real estate attorney can help guide you along this path and help ensure the repairs you need are made in a timely manner.
PeytonBolin is committed to providing knowledgeable, resourceful and consistent legal for all aspects of real estate law. Contact us for more information on tenants' rights or how to handle disputes with a landlord.