By Catherine Powell
Image courtesy Pixabay
If you’re thinking of renting out your Florida home, condo, mobile home or even a room in your home, there are a few things you need to know. That’s because as a landlord in Florida, you have to live up to the obligations imposed by the state. Meet the demands detailed in the Florida Residential Landlord Tenant Act and you’ll be able to extract an income from your property. Fail to live up to the letter of the law and you could find yourself fined by the state or taken to court by your tenant. For the uninitiated, being a first-time landlord can be a bit daunting. To help make the Florida landlord-tenant laws a bit easier to digest, here are some things you need to know before you put up a For Rent sign:
- The Art of the Lease - A lease is simply a contract between landlord and tenant. In Florida, a lease can be either written or verbal. Both are considered legally binding by the state. All a lease does is dictate the terms and conditions expected of both parties. That being said, the terms and conditions imposed can’t be deemed unreasonable. If the court finds that a rental agreement or part of a rental agreement is unreasonable, the court may refuse to enforce the rental agreement in part or in its entirety.
- Are you ready to live up to your responsibilities as a landlord? While you may own the property, once a lease commences the landlord has certain obligations and restrictions imposed. First and foremost is your obligation to keep a rented dwelling habitable. This means that any plumbing, electrical, heating and pest control duties are your responsibility. So too are working doors and windows. If you wish to affect repairs, you’re required by law to give your tenants a minimum of twelve hours notice, unless there’s an emergency situation that requires your immediate attention. That means you can’t simply walk into the rented property any time you wish, unless it’s to protect or preserve the premises.
- What are the tenant’s obligations to the landlord? Just because tenants pay their rent on time, that doesn’t mean they can do whatever they want with your property. By law, tenants in Florida are required to keep the premises neat and sanitary. This includes such things as making sure they take out the garbage and use all appliances in a reasonable manner. The law precludes tenants from conducting themselves or their guests in a manner that disturbs other tenants. They’re precluded from damaging or removing any part of the premises that belongs to the landlord and they’re also required to comply with all housing, building and health codes imposed by the state.
- Show me the money. While you can charge rent as well as a security deposit, there are rules concerning how a landlord handles both of these items. Whenever a security deposit is required, a landlord isn’t allowed to commingle these funds with their personal funds. Florida law requires landlords to set up a separate interest or non-interest-bearing bank account to deposit any security deposit. If the landlord decides to change the location of the security deposit, he or she must notify the tenant within 30 days. Once the lease is completed, the landlord has 15 days to return the security deposit unless a claim is going to be made. If a claim is going to be made, the landlord has 30 days to give the tenant written notice by certified mail of the amount and reason for imposing a claim. If such a notice isn’t delivered within 30 days, the landlord forfeits any right to impose any claim whatsoever.
- What happens if a tenant’s rent goes unpaid? – If a tenant fails to pay their rent, both they and the landlord have rights. Under Florida law, a tenant can’t withhold all or part of the rent should a landlord refuse to comply with the statutes requiring the landlord to keep the premises safe and sanitary without court approval. On the other hand, if a tenant fails to pay rent, a landlord can’t take any action against the tenant without prior approval of the court. This means it’s illegal for a landlord to turn off the utilities or change the locks on a rental unit. Any action taken to evict a tenant must be approved by the court to be legal. Failure to follow Florida statutes invited legal action by the tenant against the landlord.
- Termination Clauses – Just because a tenant has a lease, that doesn’t mean the landlord can’t terminate a tenancy with due cause. When the lease is from year to year, the landlord may inform the tenant of termination with or without cause as long as the tenant is provided with at least 60 days notice in writing. Termination of a quarterly lease requires 30 days notice in writing. Monthly leases require 15 days notice. The same rules apply to a tenant who wishes to end their lease without renewing.
- What happens if a tenant refuses to move out? – Once the rental agreement is terminated, if the tenant refuses to vacate the premises, the landlord can do one or more of the following:
a. The landlord can file a complaint in county court stating the facts that authorize its recovery.
b. The landlord may recover double the amount of rent due on the dwelling for the period during which the tenant refuses to vacate the premises.
c. The landlord may apply for the removal of a tenant by filing a complaint stating the facts that authorize recovery of the premises.
d. The tenant may defend upon the ground of noncompliance on the part of the landlord with Florida landlord-tenant law.
- Do you need to acquire landlord insurance? Absolutely. Typical homeowner’s policies don’t cover rentals. Landlord policies provide you with sufficient liability and property damage coverage, as well as loss of income coverage to reimburse you for lost rent should the unit be deemed uninhabitable. What it won’t cover are a tenant’s personal belongings. For that a tenant will need to acquire renter’s insurance.
Catherine Powell is the owner of A Plus All Florida, Insurance in Orange Park, Florida. To find out more about saving money on all your insurance needs, check out her website at http://aplusallfloridainsuranceinc.com/