Learn Florida's laws around refusing to pay rent if your landlord's been slacking
As a renter in Florida, you may be tired of waiting around for your landlord to repair your heater or to install a new refrigerator. If your landlord continues to drag his or her feet, when can you draw the line and withhold rent?
Here's a brief overview of your rights and the process you should follow according to Florida landlord and tenant law.
What your landlord is required to do
Property owners who you pay your rent to must comply with housing regulations, including city and county health and building codes. They have to make sure your rental is in top working order. They are not legally allowed to rent a property to you that isn't safe to live in, or that isn't in good repair.
But what does “good repair” really mean?
Conditions under which you can withhold rent
In order for your rental to be considered in good repair, your landlord must keep up with repairs to the:
- exterior walls
These elements of your home are essentially what's keeping it together. You are not expected to live without a door that locks or a roof over your head. If you can see the outside through your living room wall, things are not in good repair.
Other conditions your landlord must address right away:
- If your home is infested with pests, like bugs or rodents.
- If you have no running water or running hot water.
- If it's winter and you have no working heater.
- If you are not provided with adequate garbage removal.
- If your outdoor property is not clean or safe.
If you are experiencing any of these conditions, and your landlord declines to address them, you are legally allowed to refuse to pay rent until the problems are solved as long as it's done properly.
Exceptions to be aware of
Before you refuse to pay rent, make sure you go through this list of reasons why you wouldn't be able to withhold.
Read your lease. It's your responsibility to read every word of your lease. Thoroughly. Why? Because some of these responsibilities could have been transferred to you in your agreement. Then it's on you to take care of the repairs.
You have to communicate the problem. Another exception: you can't withhold rent if you haven't told your landlord about a problem. They have to know about it to be at fault.
You must be up-to-date on rent. If you're already late on rent payments, you can't withhold rent further.
You can't withhold rent for no AC. Your landlord is not legally obligated to provide air conditioning. That may sound crazy considering it gets hot in Florida, but it's true. You can't withhold rent just because your AC goes out.
How to initiate the legal process
If you've determined that your problem meets the above requirements – that it's a repair your landlord is responsible for fixing, that there's nothing in your lease, and that you've definitely told them about it – it's time to start the legal process. Make sure you follow these steps to make it legitimate.
1. Don't spend the rent you withhold
First and foremost, remember that you'll have to pay the same amount of rent once the issue is addressed. You don't just get to skip an entire month – you'll have to repay it later. So, don't spend that money you're hanging onto.
2. Get an inspection report
Next, it's a good idea to contact whoever is in charge of enforcing housing codes in your area. Request that they come to do an inspection, and you'll then have a written report that details the codes that are being violated by your landlord. When you send your written notice, detailed below, you can also send a copy of this report.
3. Send a written notice of your intention to withhold
You then need to send your landlord a written notice that you will be withholding rent because the property is wholly untenantable and give them at least 20 days to make the repair, according to Florida Statutes. The notice must be given at least seven days before rent is due.
The law also requires that this notice be in writing and be sent either by certified mail or handed to them with a witness present. You will need to keep a copy of the notice for your records.
Note that if your landlord brings an action against you for not paying rent, you can provide a defense showing that seven days elapsed after your written notice was delivered to them.
If you are beyond the point of wanting to stay in your rental, know that you can also terminate your lease under these circumstances, following a similar procedure with a written seven-day notice to your landlord that states your intentions.
The bottom line: cover your bases. Withholding rent is no small matter, so make sure you do so the correct, legal way. Your safest bet is to contact a legal professional you can assist you with these matters, just to double check you are following Florida tenant laws.
To talk to an experienced attorney about your options and rights, contact the team at PeytonBolin. We can walk you through the process of handling the dispute with your landlord.