Do You Have to Pay if Your Rental Home Needs Repairs?
Authored By: Community Legal Services of Mid-Florida
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- FAQ Printable brochure Sample Letter to Landlord - Word .doc Sample Letter to Landlord - PDF
What Quality Housing Must Landlords Provide? +
Florida law requires your landlord to comply with the building, housing, and health codes of the city or county where you live. In an apartment, the landlord must keep the building free from rodents (mice and rats) and bugs (like roaches, termites, and bedbugs). Also, the landlord is required to provide garbage removal, plumbing, hot water, and heat. The areas around your apartment building should be kept clean and safe by your landlord. Your landlord is not required to provide you with A/C unless your lease or local law says so.
Please note that if you live in a single-family home or a duplex (but not an apartment) the landlord may transfer all or some of these responsibilities to you in the lease. Therefore, it is important that you read your lease.
What Happens When a Landlord Fails to Obey Housing Codes? +
If the landlord does not follow the law and fails to make needed repairs or provide the things you are entitled to, you have two choices:
- You have the right to stop paying (“withhold”) your rent—if you follow the correct procedures— until the landlord makes a reasonable effort to correct the problems, or
- You have the right to terminate your lease and move without penalty - if you carefully follow the correct procedures.
Your seven-day notice should be either given to the landlord in person with a witness present or sent by certified mail. The notice cannot be given to the landlord when you are already behind in your rent. You must be current with your rent in order to withhold rent after delivering a seven-day notice. Be sure to keep a copy of your notice. The notice should be delivered 7 days before the rent is due. If mailing, you must add 5 days for mailing, meaning you must mail it 12 days before the rent is due.
There is a sample form that you can use for providing notice to your landlord of your intention to withhold your rent (or to terminate your lease), available here. Be sure to list all of the problems that need to be fixed in your letter and attach any code enforcement reports that explain the problems. Keep a copy of your letter and proof that it was delivered -you will need to show this to the court if your landlord tries to evict you for not paying your rent.
If you decide to terminate your lease and move out instead of withhold your rent be sure to wait the full seven days. If repairs are not made then be sure to move out promptly and return the keys to your landlord. Think carefully before deciding to terminate the lease and move out instead of remaining in the property and withholding your rent until the problems are fixed. Often landlords disagree that problems were serious enough for you to end the lease and move and will charge you an early termination fee or continue to charge you rent. Although the landlord could sue a tenant in court for these fees they often will not go to court and instead just report that this money is owed to them to credit bureaus and it appears on the tenant’s credit report. Such reports are frustrating to dispute and can make renting other homes and getting credit hard in the future.
Under Florida law tenants are not allowed to simply decide to make repairs themselves and then later taket the cost of the repairs out of their rent.
What Is A Housing Code Inspection? +
If you intend to provide the landlord with a seven-day notice to make repairs, you should first consider calling your city or county housing code enforcement office and asking for a housing code inspection. There is no charge for this inspection. The inspector will write a report detailing any housing code violations. You can attach this report to your seven-day notice. Keep a copy of this report: it is an important document as it has been prepared by an unbiased third-party if you have to go to court and defend yourself from eviction. Also, take photographs and recordings of the problems that you are having with the home. Keep notes of the contact that you have with your landlord.
The landlord might become angry that you reported these problems to an inspector and s/he may try to evict you. This can be considered a retaliatory eviction by the court; if so, the eviction could be denied. If you follow these procedures, the law says you have the right to stop paying all future rent until the repairs are made or the services are supplied. However, DO NOT SPEND YOUR RENT MONEY. You must pay it to the landlord once the repairs are made, or if s/he sues to evict you the court will not hear your case unless you deposit all the rent that you withheld with the Clerk of Court.
Are There Different Rules for a Section 8 Voucher? +
Yes. If you rent with a “Section 8” Housing Voucher where a housing authority pays for a portion of your rent, please note that you have special rules that apply to you if you have problems with your rental home not being in good condition. Do NOT withhold your rent or move because of repairs that need to be made. Be sure to report problems with your home to your caseworker in writing and ask that an “audit inspection” be done of your home. Keep a copy of your request.
What Should Be Done With My Rent Money? +
YOU MUST NOT SPEND YOUR RENT MONEY. You must have it and be ready to pay the landlord once the repairs are substantially completed. Sometimes a landlord will not make repairs and will try to evict you for not paying your rent. If the landlord does try to evict you, the court will ask for the money to hold until the court makes a decision about the eviction. You will not get a hearing unless you deposit all the rent money you withheld with the court.
If you follow the rules above and the landlord tries to evict you, the written notice you gave your landlord will be your defense in court. The court will decide whether you keep the rent money or whether the landlord gets the money. This decision will depend on what the problem was and what the landlord did to fix the problem.
What To Do If You Get an Eviction Notice +
If your landlord does not fix problems and you get an eviction notice, immediately call your local Legal Services office to find out if they can help you defend the eviction or help you file a written response to the court. You will have only five working days to file an answer to a complaint, so do not delay.
Also, read “Help, I Just Got a 3-day Notice!” Once you are served with an eviction complaint and summons from the court you only have five (5) business days to file your response (called an “answer”), so you must not delay or you will automatically lose and be evicted. You will need to attach a copy of the notice that you provided your landlord and be prepared to deposit your rent money with the Clerk when you file your answer. See Filing Your Answer to a Complaint, for more information about answers.
Where Do I File? +
Your answer must be filed with the Clerk of the Court for the county where you live. Once your original answer is filed (with any attachments), and your rent is deposited the court will advise you of all hearings so you can present your case. You also have to mail one copy of your answer to the landlord or the landlord’s attorney. Look at the name and address on the summons to see where to send the landlord’s copy. Also, keep your own copy in a safe place.