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Lease or Rental Agreement
The landlord and tenant are equal parties in an agreement or lease to rent real property. Before signing, the tenant should fully understand and agree to the terms of the lease. Although leases can be written or oral, it is better to have a written lease, specifying respective rights and obligations. To minimize later disputes, it is a good idea to inspect the premises prior to moving in and to make a list of damaged items or areas, worn rugs, broken fixtures, etc. Both parties should keep copies of the lease and all documents relating to the rental.
Security Deposit or Advance Rent
Security deposits or advance rent should be held by the landlord in a separate interest bearing, or non-interest bearing account, in a Florida banking institution. If it is in an interest-bearing account, the tenant is entitled to 75% of the interest accrued or 5% simple interest per year, whichever the landlord selects. Or, the landlord may post a surety bond with the Clerk of the County Court and the tenant is entitled to 5% simple interest per year on the deposit. The landlord has 15 days following termination of the rental agreement or lease to either refund the security deposit or send a certified letter to the tenant explaining the reason all or part of the deposit is not being returned. If this notice is not sent as required, the landlord forfeits his/her right to impose a claim. Should the tenant fail to give the landlord appropriate notice prior to vacating, the landlord may be released from the obligation to notify the tenant and may keep the deposit. After the landlord writes that he/she is claiming all or part of the deposit, the tenant has 15 days after receipt of the notice to write the landlord objecting to the landlord's claim. If the tenant fails to write, the landlord is obligated to return only that portion of the deposit he/she has not claimed. The law regarding damage deposits, which the landlord may require to insure payment for damages beyond normal wear and tear, varies according to circumstances. More information may be found in the Florida Statutes at FLA. STAT., Part II, Chapter 83.
Landlord and Tenant Responsibilities for Maintenance of the Premises
The landlord is required (unless otherwise stated in lease) by law to:
- Comply with building, housing and health codes;
- Keep the roof, windows, screens, floors and outside walls in good repair;
- Exterminate rats, bugs, and wood-destroying organisms;
- Supply locks and keys, heat during the winter, running water and hot water;
- Provide for garbage removal from the premises (this does not apply to single-family houses or duplexes);
- Provide lead based paint disclosure.
Failure of the landlord to meet lease or law requirements may result in the tenant withholding the rent. However, before the tenant may legally withhold rent, he/she must send the landlord written notification by certified mail at least 7 days before the rent is due to allow time to remedy the problem. If the problem is not corrected after seven days notice, and the rent is withheld, the landlord may take the tenant to court for collection. In this case, the rent must be paid into the court registry pending the judge's determination of the case.
Tenants are responsible for:
- Complying with housing and health codes;
- Keeping the unit and premises clean;
- Removing garbage from the unit he/she occupies;
- Not abusing the electrical, plumbing, heating, air conditioning, and other facilities furnished by the landlord;
- Not defacing or damaging the premises;
- Generally occupying the unit without disturbing the peace.
Failure of the tenant to comply may result in the landlord giving the tenant 7 days written notice to meet obligations. If non-compliance continues, the landlord may terminate the lease at the end of the 7 days and bring a legal action for eviction.
Access to the premises
The landlord can enter at reasonable times to inspect, make repairs, supply agreed services, or show the dwelling to a prospective purchaser or tenant.
The landlord may enter at any time when:
- The tenant has given consent;
- There is an emergency;
- The tenant unreasonably withholds consent;
- The tenant is absent for an extended period; but the landlord may enter only to protect or preserve the premises.
Rent and Termination of Rental/Lease Agreement
Unless otherwise agreed, rent is payable without demand or notice. Periodic rent is payable at the beginning of each rent payment period. When a written lease specifies a termination date, the lease ends and the tenant must leave. However the lease may be extended by agreement of both parties under the old terms or modified by mutual agreement. At the end of a lease, the tenant may also "hold over" as agreed upon by both parties. Where no termination date is stated, the agreement is ended by either party giving written notice to the other. When rent is paid weekly, notice must be given at least 7 days before the next rental payment is due. When the rent is paid monthly, notice is required at least 15 days before the next rental payment date; if paid year to year, 60 days notice is required. If the rental agreement has been terminated for any of the reasons allowed under the Landlord and Tenant Act and the tenant does not move, the landlord can start eviction procedures. In the case of non-payment of rent, the landlord must serve the tenant with a written notice allowing three days (excluding weekends and legal holidays) in which to pay the rent or move. To gain possession of the dwelling the landlord must file suit, providing the court with a copy of the three-day notice. The tenant then has five days, excluding weekends and legal holidays to respond in writing to the court. If the tenant does not respond or if a judgment is entered against the tenant, the Clerk of the Circuit Court will issue a writ of possession to the Sheriff and the tenant will have only 24 hours notice prior to eviction. Any attempt by a landlord to evict a tenant by locking that person out of his apartment or by removing the outside doors, locks, roof, walls or windows of the unit or by terminating any utility service furnished to the tenant, including water, electricity, heat, light, gas, garbage collection or refrigeration, whether or not the utility service is under control of or paid by the landlord, is a violation of the Florida Law and the landlord may be liable for actual and consequential damages or three months rent, whichever is greater, and costs, including attorney fees.
The landlord is not allowed to use a rent increase or evict a tenant solely in retaliation because the tenant has complained to a governmental agency about a code violation. The tenant may present evidence of this conduct as a defense in an action for possession of the dwelling. A copy of the Landlord Tenant Law (Florida Statutes, Part II, Chapter 83) is available upon request from the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services, Mayo Building, Tallahassee, FL 32301, or call 1-800-342-2176 toll free. The Florida Statutes may also be found in the Pinellas County Law Library, 324 S. Ft. Harrison, Clearwater, FL 33756, 464-3411, or viewed on the Florida Senate website: Florida Statues Chapter 83.