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Guidelines for Renting a Home in Florida

Being prepared before you sign a lease can prevent problems later

Before you sign on the dotted lines to rent a home or apartment in Florida, take another look at that lease.

Even on the standard agreement used by most landlords, there are variations. “Most leases have options to choose what the landlord and tenant will be responsible for, such as garbage removal,” says Miami real estate attorney Cristina M. Ortiz.

Try to specify a deadline, such as one to three days, for the landlord to start repairing any issues that arise—you do not want to be without air conditioning for very long in July. Otherwise, the legally vague “reasonable notice” comes into play.

Understanding Security Deposits

Another tricky area involves security deposits. “I get a lot of questions about ‘last month’s rent,’” says Ortiz, who represents both landlords and tenants at The Law Office of Cristina M. Ortiz. It sounds straightforward, but there may be a misunderstanding about whether a tenant still has to pay the last month’s rental payment, then get it back later.

There can also be disagreement over whether the tenant has caused any damage—which, depending on the lease, can even include repainting a wall a color that wasn’t the original. And if the landlord insists on keeping the security deposit, sometimes it’s a fight not worth waging, depending on the amount of the deposit.

If in doubt about the conditions of a lease agreement, it’s a good idea to consult an experienced attorney for legal advice.

“Unfortunately, the landlord is in the upper position, because they already have your security deposit; the money is in their account, not yours,” Ortiz points out. “So now you, the tenant, have to fight your landlord—with attorneys that you have to pay for—to get your security deposit back,” says Ortiz. “I always tell tenants, ‘I know this is unfortunate, but I want you to balance the benefits and costs of your security deposit.’”

When renting a home in the State of Florida, follow this checklist:

  • Read the lease carefully
  • Understand how the security deposit works
  • Negotiate with the landlord
  • Consult an attorney if in doubt

When You Can’t Pay the Rent

An even more serious situation is when a tenant suffers a financial setback, such as losing a job, and can’t pay the rent. In the wake of COVID-19, says Ortiz, this has become a major issue for many tenants. Florida’s Gov. Rick DeSantis issued a moratorium on evictions April 2, and has extended it a number of times, to prevent people from being kicked out of their homes for lack of financial resources. The most recent grace period expires Oct. 1, 2020, and is more narrowly defined to include only renters who have lost money due to the pandemic.

“Florida landlords are still posting written notices,” says Ortiz. “But a sheriff cannot kick you out.”

However, DeSantis’ last two extension have allowed landlords to take the process through the courts, except for the final step of orders to vacate.

Ortiz notes that, when the moratorium ends, renters will owe all the unpaid rent. “We can’t forgive nonpayment of rent, but we’re giving them time,” she says. “Eventually, the landlords will be moving ahead with eviction.”

Negotiate With Your Landlord

If you’re falling behind in your rent, Ortiz has some advice: “The bad news is that the landlord is under no obligation to negotiate with you …  What I would advise is to act in good faith, obviously, notifying the landlord of whatever your situation is. Try to come into some sort of payment plan if you’re still working.

“That’s a temporary solution. A more permanent solution is renegotiating the terms of the lease. Now what I’m telling tenants is talk to your landlord, because the cost of evicting you, that’s one cost, and the other cost is finding a new tenant [who is] willing to pay what they expected in the first place; that’s harder to find.” 

Your landlord might just be persuaded to change the written lease, says Ortiz: “Say, ‘I want to stay here. Work with me.’” If you have questions and need answers, talk to an experienced real estate attorney about Florida landlord tenant law or your landlord’s responsibilities.

For more information, see our landlord and tenant law overview.

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