Living in an apartment complex or leased property definitely has its perks: no mortgage payments, you don’t have the commitment of living there forever, and loans aren’t necessary to put down a security deposit. Most apartments also offer free maintenance. You put in a request, and (for the most part) someone arrives to install your light bulbs, change your filters, and so on.
We say “for the most part” because not every apartment complex is perfect. Landlords may be slow at answering your calls and requests, or may not put a satisfying amount of effort into maintaining the area where you live.
If the problems around your apartment get really bad, your landlord or property manager may be guilty of more than just being bad at their job – they may be violating your rights as a tenant.
What Duties Does Florida Give to Landlords?
As the owner of a space where you are living, landlords and property managers have specific duties laid out by Florida law. When these duties are not completed, you may have a lawsuit on your hand. It is completely within your rights to hold your property managers responsible for completing the following duties:
Disclose Information About Management: Your money is in the hands of a landlord or a property management company, so you deserve to know who is handling your rent and repairs. A landlord cannot refuse to give out information about management staff who are processing your rent or holding your security deposit.
Return Your Security Deposit: Florida requires landlords to return a tenant’s security deposit within one month of the tenant moving out. If money from the security deposit needs to go to damages made by the tenant, the landlord must let the tenant know about these costs when they return the partial security deposit.
Protect Tenants from Reasonably Foreseeable Criminal Conduct: If you’ve ever received a letter or notification from your landlord about car thefts or other crime in the area, the action is more than just a good-natured warning to tenants. Sending these letters and giving tenants advice and opportunities to protect themselves from crime is a way to take liability off of a landlord should these crimes occur again.
Being the victim of a crime like robbery or criminal mischief may cost you money, but if you try and take your landlord to court over the crime, the burden of proof is on you. How can you prove to a court that your landlord was negligent in providing security and safety to the area around your apartment? There are ways, but they are not always easy.
Check Security Measures: This responsibility goes hand-in-hand with the one above it. Florida housing regulations often require landlords to install security measures on each unit: locks, fences, peepholes, and so on. If your landlord fails to meet these requirements, you may be able to hold them accountable for crimes like burglary.
Landlords also have the duty of finding and reporting potential security breaches, but it’s best if tenants report these breaches to landlords. The sooner you can get a broken window or a lock fixed, the lower the risk of being the victim of a burglary.
Keep Properties Up to Code: Housing regulations also include electrical, plumbing, or other structural requirements that keep tenants safe and a building secure. This is where general repairs come in. For example, if the parking lot of your apartment complex develops a large pothole and isn’t repaired by landlords in a timely manner, a tenant who slips and falls in that pothole would be able to file a claim for their injuries.
What Additional Rights Do Tenants Have?
Landlords may not always live up to their responsibilities, so it’s crucial to hold them accountable for their actions. If your landlord is continuing to fail in fulfilling their duties, you can take the following actions:
Withhold Rent: If the above duties aren’t completed in a reasonable amount of time, Florida gives tenants the right to withhold rent.
Make Requests/Complaints Without Retaliation: You should not be afraid to speak up about your living conditions or repairs that need to be made around the property. Florida law prohibits landlords from retaliating after a complaint. Examples of retaliation include decreasing services (barring you from the complex pool or gym), increasing the rent, or filing a lawsuit against you.
What Can You Do to Protect Yourself?
Before you sign a lease, talk to your landlord about renters’ insurance. Some apartment complexes will offer a plan that is tacked onto your rent, but you may also get a separate plan through your insurance or a third-party insurer.
Renters’ insurance can cover damages from accidents like fire or flooding, or the loss of property from an incident like theft on the property. If you do not have renters’ insurance, or your insurance doesn’t cover the negligence of your landlord, it may be time to take your claim to small claims court.
Jeffrey Braxton is a trial lawyer in Fort Lauderdale who has devoted his 15-year career to the practice of personal injury law. As lead trial attorney for The Injury Law Firm of South Florida, Jeff has litigated thousands of cases and is a member of the Million Dollar Advocates Forum, an exclusive group of attorneys who have resolved cases in excess of one million dollars.
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