Security deposits can cause a lot of headaches between tenants and landlords. Understand the rights you have under Florida law, so you can take action against a deduction claim or missing deposit check if necessary.
A common dispute that arises between tenants and landlords is whether or not the security deposit should be paid back in full. In Florida, there's no limit on the amount a landlord can charge for a deposit so you could end up losing a lot of money if something goes wrong.
Because laws surrounding security deposits vary by state, we'll first go over Florida's regulations, so you can better understand when you can make an objection or file a lawsuit against a landlord. Then, we'll cover the steps you can take.
What costs can be deducted from a security deposit?
Landlords can deduct funds from the security deposit to cover several different types of costs. These include:
- unpaid rent that you owe
- unpaid utilities
- damage that goes beyond normal wear and tear (like a bad pet stain, a hole in the wall, etc.)
- cleaning costs if space isn't returned to its original condition, aside from normal wear and tear
- costs to reverse changes you made, like painting a wall its original color
Anything that goes beyond these costs that aren't in your lease can't be deducted from your security deposit. For instance, if your landlord tries to deduct money for normal wear and tear costs, like retouching paint or small scratches, you may be able to take action.
Take a last look over your lease to make sure you didn't miss something you agreed to, like returning all walls to their original color before moving out.
What are the Florida time limitations for notice?
The landlord must send you a notice in the mail within 30 days from the date your lease ended to keep a portion or all of the security deposit. This notice states their intent and the reasons for deducting funds. You then have 15 days from receiving the notice to object to their intent. If you don't act within those 15 days, your landlord can then deduct the amount stated in the notice from the deposit.
But, even if you don't respond in time, you can still file a lawsuit. Just don't cash the reduced check they send you yet, or you could forfeit that right.
If the landlord is not claiming any part of the security deposit, the full amount is owed to you within 15 days following the end of your lease. If you don't receive the security deposit by the deadline, or if you haven't received the deposit after you responded to notice with your objections, you can work with an attorney to send a demand letter. This is a good idea because Florida attorneys will know the local regulations and will be able to send an official letter with their letterhead, which can't hurt when trying to get a response from someone who owes you money.
When the owner doesn't respond to a demand letter, it's time to sue.
Suing a landlord in Florida
Filing a lawsuit for this kind of claim in Florida is pretty inexpensive and simple.
You'll then need to prepare by gathering as much evidence and information about the situation as you can. This can include:
- an outline of the specific amount you are owed, including any interest that accrued on your deposit
- correspondence regarding the deposit, including the original notice and your demand letter
- the lease
- a copy of Florida's security deposit law, or local law as applicable
- photographs of the property when you moved in versus when you moved out
You could even have witnesses who can testify on your behalf about the condition of the rental unit.
Remember that you have to actually make and present your case in court, in front of a judge. So, practice what you'll say and be sure to dress professionally.
What defense could my landlord bring?
If you kept keys to your property, for instance, your landlord could claim that you had failed to fully vacate the premises. Other common claims could be that you didn't provide a forwarding address so they couldn't send you the deposit. While these claims could be valid reasons why you haven't received your funds, it's important to be aware of them to have your plan of action ready. For example, you could show that you registered your address change with the post office before you moved out, and thus you should have received a notice or a check promptly.
This is why it's a good idea to get everything in writing or receipt form, even when you are just returning the keys or providing a forwarding address. Any written proof you have will help your case.
If you have questions about the claim process for your security deposit, or you need assistance navigating complex rental laws in Florida, PeytonBolin is ready to help. We aim to make the real estate legal process simple for our clients, whether dealing with condo associations, HOAs, or problems with landlords and owners. Get in touch with our experienced team today to schedule a consultation.