A Look at Tenant Rights and Responsibilities
Chapter 83 of the Florida Statutes governs landlord and tenant relationships. The landlord-tenant relationship can take the form of residential or commercial uses, and is based upon a written lease or an oral agreement between the Parties. Generally, the relationship is mutually beneficial, but can sometimes take a contentious turn. When and if disaster strikes, it is important to understand both your rights and responsibilities as a tenant in order to avoid unnecessary and potentially costly situations such as forfeiting deposits, contesting payments, or having to fight improper eviction actions. Below is an overview of some common instances that arise during the course of the landlord-tenant relationship.
Termination of Tenancy
Tenants are entitled to adequate notice of a landlord’s intent to terminate a tenancy agreement. If the duration of the tenancy is outlined in a lease agreement, the lease will control. However, if the duration of the tenancy is not specified, the landlord must give notice as follows:
- not less than 60 days before the end of the lease year in a year to year tenancy,
- not less that 30 days before the end of the lease quarter in a quarterly tenancy,
- not less than 15 days before the end of the lease month in a month to month tenancy, and
- not less than 7 days before the end of the lease week in a week to week tenancy.
**It is important to bear in mind that these notice requirements are for either the landlord or the tenant, if the tenant desires to give notice of his/her intent to terminate the tenancy.
Demand for Rent
If a tenant has failed to make a rent payment on time, the landlord may make a “3 day notice”–a formal demand for either the rent owed or for possession of the property. However, the landlord is required to make that demand in writing and to deliver the demand to the tenant (or to the property if the tenant is absent). The demand must also give the tenant 3 days to bring the rent current. If the tenant makes the payment, then the landlord may not terminate the rental agreement or continue with any legal action for the payment of rent or for possession of the property. However, if the tenant fails to bring the rent due, the landlord may institute an eviction process.
If, after delivery of the 3 day notice, the tenant has not paid the rent owed or surrendered the property, the landlord may proceed with the formal eviction process. First, the landlord must file a Complaint with the court, and formally serve that Complaint on each tenant. The Complaint may take one of two forms: it may be a simple request for eviction only, or it may include a count for outstanding rent as well. If the Complaint does include a count for rent, the tenant may dispute the amounts claimed to be due, and ask that the court determine the actual amounts at stake. However, it is crucial to respond to any notice of an eviction action, because evictions are governed by Florida’s summary procedural rules. That means that trial and judgment in eviction actions is expedited. Failure to respond to an eviction Complaint within 5 days could result in the entry of default against the tenant, with default judgment coming next. Once judgment is entered, the landlord will ask the court for a writ of possession, which is an instruction to the Sheriff’s Office to actually evict any tenant still at the property according to the judgment entered.
Filing an answer to the eviction Complaint gives the tenant the opportunity to present any defenses to the eviction to the court for consideration. Defenses may include: actual payment of the rent, that the landlord failed to follow proper procedure in the eviction process, or that the landlord failed to maintain the premises according to his legal obligations.
**It is important to note that an eviction may be pursued for purposes other than failure to pay rent, but the procedure is slightly different. A Tampa Real Estate lawyer should be consulted prior to seeking an eviction.
The issue of security deposits arises once the tenant vacates the property. If the landlord does not intend to make a claim against the deposit, it must be returned to the tenant within 15 days of the tenant vacating the property. If, however, the landlord does intend to make a claim, he/she is required to provide the tenant written notice of the reasons for the claim within 30 days. If no such claim is made within the allotted 30 days, then the landlord forfeits the right to claim the deposit.
Tenants should be aware that if written notice is provided, they have an additional 15 days to notify the landlord of any objection they may have to the claim asserted. Any challenge made by a tenant against a landlord’s security deposit claim serves to freeze the deposit and will then need to be resolved by the court if a settlement cannot be reached.
Brief Word About Commercial Leases
Commercial leases tend to follow the traditional standard of “caveat emptor” or buyer beware. In general commercial leases tend to be extremely landlord favorable and should never be entered into with review of an experienced Tampa real estate lawyer.