Understanding Common Area Maintenance (CAM) Charges

If you’re the landlord of a commercial property, you’ve probably heard of CAM charges. These are additional charges beyond monthly rent that many landlords require their tenants to pay to cover costs associated with common area maintenance. Common areas include parking lots, lobbies, elevators, public restrooms, and anywhere else that multiple tenants or groups of tenants access, indoors or outdoors. 

How should CAM fees be handled in a lease?

Landlords should list precisely in the lease what CAM fees will be charged, how often they will be charged, and what they will cover. It is also wise to include a cap on how much they can be increased each year. If you are requiring your tenant to contribute to major renovation costs, such as repairs to the building’s roof, let them know in writing. The lease should state when these repairs were last made as well as the dates on which they are scheduled or expected to be made again in the future. An attorney can help you make sure you cover all your bases, with CAM and otherwise, when reviewing your lease.

How are CAM fees calculated and paid?

Property managers and/or landlords make estimates on how much common area maintenance will cost at the beginning of each year. This amount is divided among tenants, but regulated by the lease agreement. 

Typically, tenants will be allowed to pay CAM fees in small increments throughout the year. If common area maintenance costs end up being less than estimated, the property manager will be required to reimburse them. This reimbursement should be paid as a lump sum.

Who can I ask if I have more questions about CAM?

If you are a landlord and you have questions about CAM charges, the Atlas Law team is here to help. We are attorneys and landlords’ advocates with extensive experience in providing innovative solutions to landlords and property managers for all of their real estate related legal needs. We are a different kind of real estate law firm because our relationship with our clients is NOT defined by billable hours. If you want to learn more about CAM or have questions about what we can do and how we can help you, please give us a call at (813) 241-8269. We can help you determine what charges are appropriate and how to implement them in your leases. We look forward to partnering with you!

Attention to Detail: Three Reasons It’s Essential to Get it Right When Evicting a Tenant

When it comes to evicting a tenant, it is absolutely essential to get all the details right. Making a mistake can cost time and money, or even lead to unwanted legal action. From paperwork to compliance with the letter of the law, this is one process where you really, really don’t want to make any mistakes. Read on to find out why.

1. Emotions are running high.

Eviction is a sensitive process. Whether you have a commercial tenant or a residential tenant, nobody is happy when they have to vacate a property where they spend a significant amount of time either personally or professionally. Emotions run high during an eviction, and even when you are completely justified and within your rights to evict your tenant, you may find that tenants look for any reason they can find to accuse you of wrongdoing. 

2. Mistakes can make the process take longer.

When you’re evicting a tenant, time is money. The more swiftly the eviction takes place, the sooner you will be able to find a new tenant for the property — and you can stop losing money! If you make mistakes with the notices, dates, or other details, the entire eviction can be thrown out, which means you will have to start the process over again from the beginning. That includes all the wait times!

3. Errors are EXPENSIVE!

Many landlords try to handle the eviction process themselves, without the help of an attorney. This is almost always a bad idea. Typically, the landlord will make a mistake of some sort, and hiring a lawyer to fix the mistake and carry out the eviction ends up being considerably more expensive than just partnering with a lawyer and getting it right from the start. Not to mention the money you lose if your tenant isn’t paying rent.

Partner with an experienced lawyer to minimize costs and evict your tenant swiftly.

At Atlas Law, we provide significant value to our clients through landlord advocacy. We invite you to rethink your relationship with your real estate attorney. We do not charge for client phone calls, client emails, or travel. We just charge a flat fee for evictions — that’s it. Are you ready to get started? If so, give us a call at (813) 241-8269. We can’t wait to hear from you!

5 Things You Cannot Legally Enforce in Your Rental Lease Agreements

As a Florida landlord, you have a lot of legal responsibilities that govern every aspect of your business, from how you select applicants and maintain the property to when you can enter the unit and how you must deal with non-paying renters. Most of these details are outlined in your rental agreement.

While some landlords deliberately take advantage of their tenants, others are genuinely unfamiliar with some aspects of landlord-tenant law or may be dealing with older lease agreements. 

Below is a list of five clauses that are legally unenforceable in Florida. If any of them are included in your tenancy agreement, see an attorney about making it legally compliant with state and federal housing laws.

1. Waiver of landlord responsibility to keep the premises habitable

A rule called the implied warranty of habitability obligates landlords to keep rental properties in safe and liveable condition. If you don’t take care of necessary repairs, such as replacing a broken-down heater or damaged lock, your tenant has options available, including the right to withhold rent. 

2. Waiving right to return of security deposit

Although security deposits are not required in Florida, if you do take them, state law specifies how you have to hold it and when it must be returned. Under Florida Statute 83.49(1), you must hold it in a separate bank account and return it within 15 days of the tenant moving out unless you intend to make a claim against it to pay for damage to the unit. In that case, you have 30 days to send written notice to the tenant via certified mail. You cannot simply keep it.

3. Unrestricted access

Except in cases of emergency, Florida landlords must generally give their tenants reasonable notice (usually 12 hours) before entering a rented unit. If you are entering to make repairs, you must do so between 7:30 a.m. and 8:00 p.m. You cannot enter the property at will and with a frequency that could be perceived as harassing.

4. Punitive actions for nonpayment of rent

If your tenant fails to pay their rent on time or unreasonably withholds payments, you are allowed to take steps to legally evict them. What you cannot do is take constructive eviction measures, such as shut off utilities or change the locks. Doing so can make you liable to the tenant for the cost of their damages or three months’ rent, whichever is greater.

5. Restricting tenancies of people with children

Some landlords don’t want to rent to people with children and set unreasonable occupancy limits, such as only two people in a two-bedroom home or apartment. Others restrict families to certain floors or areas of the building. Some of these rules discriminate against families and cannot be enforced.

Lack of familiarity with tenant rights can cost you a lot if a tenant complains to the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services, so it’s important to have your rental lease agreements reviewed by an attorney. At Atlas Law, we support and represent landlords and property managers across the entire state, so no matter where your property is located, we can help. Contact us today at (813) 241-8269.

Understanding the Protected Classes Under the Fair Housing Act

The Fair Housing Act protects people from discrimination in all aspects of housing. It applies not only to renting and buying, but also to applying for a mortgage, seeking assistance, and more. The Fair Housing Act came as a part (Title VIII, to be exact) of the Civil Rights Act of 1968, which was signed by President Lyndon Johnson just days after the assassination of Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

This act protects several classes. In other words, no one can discriminate against you because of the following things:

  • Race
  • Color
  • National Origin
  • Religion
  • Sex
  • Familial Status 
  • Disability

Other than familial status, these classes are self-explanatory. “Familial status” refers to the presence of children in the family or a person’s pregnancy.  It can also refer to multiple generations living in the same home. 

The Fair Housing Act is enforced by the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD). To test that sellers and others are complying with the act, HUD (on both a national and local level) hires people to pose as buyers or renters. These individuals are commonly referred to in the industry as “testers.”  These people must report any discriminatory practices they observe. To avoid accusations of discrimination, those working in housing must be careful with their word choice not only in writing, but also in person and on the phone.

HUD also investigates claims of housing discrimination that are reported to them and can pursue legal action against those who are discriminating.

How to Recognize Discrimination

 The following are indicators that can suggest the presence of discrimination:

  • A prospective tenant was asked to provide more or different documents from other prospective tenants.
  • A prospective tenant was told they did not qualify, based on different qualifying standards from other prospective tenants.
  • The landlord or other person involved in the situation made disrespectful remarks.

What are legitimate reasons that someone may not qualify for housing?

While you can’t deny someone housing because of their race, color, national origin, religion, sex, familial status, or disability, it is still perfectly legal to turn someone away for other reasons. These include:

  • Poor credit
  • Not enough income to pay rent
  • Criminal history (although HUD put out a memorandum indicating that this may not be a valid reason for rejecting a tenant)

Who can help me with a Fair Housing issue?

If you are a landlord seeking better understanding of the Fair Housing Act, contact Atlas Law today. We provide counsel to help you handle your property properly. Our firm is unique because we can help you with your legal real estate needs across the entire state of Florida. Contact us today at (813) 241-8269.

4 Types of Damages That Could Be Awarded in a Tenant’s Rights Case

As a landlord, one of the most important things you should do is stay abreast of tenant rights laws in Florida and in your specific municipality. Landlord-tenant disputes can be extremely costly, particularly if the court rules in favor of the tenant and orders you to pay damages plus attorney fees. Knowing exactly what the law says helps you stay within legal limits at all times. Several types of damages can be awarded in a tenant’s rights case, increasing the financial risk of a lawsuit for landlords.

1. Breach of Implied Warranty of Habitability

Tenants have the right to quiet enjoyment of a safe and habitable living environment. If a tenant can demonstrate that you, in any way, failed to keep the property livable, they could be awarded damages in a court case. You may have to refund any money they spent trying to repair the home, make it safer, or keep family members safe. Additionally, a judge may award punitive damages if they believe you showed wanton neglect and disregard for the tenant’s rights.  This is a very rare case, but it can become a concern if a landlord is aware of a dangerous condition on the property and the landlord doesn’t take steps to remedy the situation.  

2. Wrongful Eviction

Wrongful eviction is a common complaint in landlord-tenant cases. It is absolutely crucial to follow state and local laws to the letter when evicting a tenant. It does not matter how clear it is that they have no intention of paying rent or that they have otherwise violated the lease—you must still follow proper eviction procedures. Even if your reason for evicting is legally sound, going about it the wrong way can lead to serious financial consequences. The court may award the tenant money for moving expenses, lost income if they took time off to move, and refunded rent payments.  The most common claim for wrongful eviction occurs when a landlord simply changes the locks due to nonpayment. A landlord should never simply lock a tenant out of the property, as this will almost certainly lead to a wrongful eviction lawsuit. 

3. Medical Expenses

If a tenant’s primary complaint is the presence of mold, asbestos, lead paint, or other issues that either require landlord disclosure or make a unit uninhabitable, you could find yourself on the hook for medical expenses. These add up quickly, particularly if there are elderly residents or children living in the unit.  Moreover, due to Florida’s climate, landlords in Florida have to be ever vigilant regarding mold complaints or water intrusion in a unit. Repairing a leak without also remediating the water damage is a concern, as this increases the potential for a mold infestation Be sure to make sure your properties are leak free, and if you find a leak be sure to replace any wet or damaged materials.  

4. Destroyed Belongings

If an uninhabitable unit causes damage to a tenant’s belongings—for example, if mold ruins their entire wardrobe or a faulty refrigerator causes them to lose a week’s worth of groceries—you may be responsible for paying repair or replacement costs.
It’s important to take preventative steps to protect your rights and your property. Courts often tend to favor tenants, which makes it even more important that you do everything right when renting out a property, signing contracts, maintaining property, and evicting tenants. Consulting a lawyer who works in landlord advocacy can help you prevent problems and avoid court. Get personalized assistance by calling Atlas Law at 813-241-8269.

Providing a Livable Space: 6 Ways a Landlord Must Ensure Habitability

Under Florida law, landlords are obliged to provide habitable housing to their tenants. The term “implied warranty of habitability” indicates that landlords implicitly promise a safe, livable home by renting to tenants. In general, this refers to major repair needs that can affect a tenant’s safety, health, or ability to remain in their home. If a landlord does not fulfill their end of this agreement, a tenant may choose to sue the landlord, break their lease without penalty, or withhold rent. These are five of the most important ways in which a landlord must provide a safe and habitable home.

1. Maintain Common Areas

All common areas must be kept safe and clean by the landlord. This includes hallways, entryways, elevators, stairs, and laundry rooms. If the landlord hires a property manager to fulfill this obligation, it is ultimately their responsibility if the property manager fails to follow through.

2. Keep Structural Elements Safe

Core structural elements of a property include the foundation, walls, roof, and stairs. All structural components must be safe. In Florida, roof leaks are a common habitability concern, as the humidity can cause the rapid spread of mildew and mold.

3. Provide Water and Heat

Residents have a right to usable water and heat. Water—both cold and hot—and heating must be available at appropriate times and in reasonable amounts. A broken furnace during a cold snap, for example, is considered a major habitability issue.   

4. Prevent and Exterminate Rodent and Insect Infestations

Landlords are expected to take reasonable steps to prevent rodent and vermin infestations. Additionally, they must exterminate all infestations as soon as they occur.

5. Reasonably Prevent Intrusions

Tenants have the right to a home that is safe from intrusions and criminal activity. Generally, landlords simply have to take common sense safety measures, such as maintaining door locks and keeping outdoor areas well-lit. Additional safety needs, such as home protection cameras or alarms, are optional and typically are the responsibility of the tenant.

6. Protect Residents from Environmental Hazards

Residents should be protected from hazards like deteriorating lead paint and asbestos. Mold is a significant issue in Florida, which means that landlords must protect against this hazard with sufficient ventilation. 

As a landlord, you want to do what is right for your tenants while protecting yourself from legal liability and disputes. That’s why you need Atlas Law—we advocate for our landlord clients and help them meet local and state standards. Contact us at 813-241-8269 to get started.

Understanding the Protected Classes Under the Fair Housing Act

Landlords are subject to a wide range of regulations and laws, including federal, state, and local. The Fair Housing Act (“FHA”) is a federal law that strives to eliminate discrimination against tenants.

An Overview of the Fair Housing Act

Prior to the Fair Housing Act, discrimination was perceived as a rampant problem for those renting or purchasing a home. The goal of the Fair Housing Act is to prevent landlords from discriminating against current, future, or prospective tenants because of specific protected characteristics or attributes.

Protected Classes

Currently, the Fair Housing Act protects against discrimination based on seven different categories:

  • Race
  • Religion
  • Color
  • Sex
  • National origin
  • Disability
  • Familial status (refers to having a child, being pregnant, or being in the process of adopting a child)

The FHA forbids discrimination against tenants based on characteristics included in the list above. This does not mean that a tenant cannot be turned away for other reasons. For example, a landlord cannot refuse to rent to a disabled individual who has an emotional support animal that exceeds the weight or breed restriction for the community. However, a housing provider can refuse to rent to a disabled person with an emotional support animal if the person does not have a steady source of income or has a criminal background that is unacceptable (please be sure your criminal background check policy is not in violation of the FHA before denying due to a criminal background).

Preventing Legal Issues

The key to avoiding lawsuits based on FHA discrimination is having a clear screening and tenant selection process. Having a documented screening process that you follow for every single tenant and every single vacancy can be strong evidence against claims of discrimination. You should be very careful about what you say in housing ads, as well as what you say to prospective tenants on the phone or in person. Anything that implies discrimination—even if it’s an unintentional implication—could put you at risk. Working with an attorney with experience in landlord/tenant issues is one way to ensure that your rental language and advertising is in compliance.

Avoid Overcompensating for the FHA

The consequences of an FHA violation can be substantial for a landlord, so it should come as no surprise that many overcompensate while trying to avoid discrimination claims. Consider, again, the example above. A landlord might choose to rent to a disabled person with a dog that exceeds the weight or breed restrictions even though that individual has an unacceptable credit rating or a criminal background. This, too, could result in a violation of the FHA. Courts have held that landlords are discriminating against other prospective tenants by favoring the tenant in question and ignoring information that would otherwise disqualify the tenant from renting.  This is why a uniform tenant screening process is so important.  

Prevention is the best way to avoid issues with tenants or prospective tenants. The team at Atlas Law has extensive experience litigating difficult Fair Housing Act cases throughout the state of Florida—call 813-241-8269 to discuss your legal needs.

Types of Damages That Could Be Awarded in a Tenant’s Rights Case

As a landlord and property owner, you have a legal responsibility to ensure that the property allows your tenants to benefit from certain rights. In Florida, these rights include the right to fair housing, the right to habitable housing, and the right to privacy, among others. A failure to comply with appropriate housing regulation may lead to a landlord-tenant dispute and even warrant a lawsuit against the landlord. 

If the tenant has a valid basis for such a lawsuit and his case prevails in court, the landlord may be ordered by the judge to pay damages, or monetary compensation, to the tenant. In this article, we will provide a brief overview of the kinds of damages a tenant may obtain in a tenant’s rights case.

Damages for Wrongfully Withholding Security Deposit

According to Florida landlord-tenant law, a landlord may retain security deposit either in part or in full only under very specific circumstances. For example, a landlord may use the deposit to cover unpaid rent. The deposit can also be withheld for damage to the property that is in excess of ordinary wear and tear. 

However, if a landlord withholds the deposit using damage to the property as a mere pretext, a tenant may choose to pursue a lawsuit. If the court decides that withholding security deposit was unreasonable, the tenant may be awarded the following kind of damages:

  • Security deposit with interest: The judge may order the landlord to return the security deposit to the tenant in part or in full along with corresponding interest
  • Triple damages: In certain cases, the judge may find that the landlord’s action was completely unwarranted and unreasonable and order the tenant to pay the tenant three times the value of security deposit as compensation
  • Attorneys’ Fees:  If the tenant hired an attorney and prevails on his/her claim for the security deposit, the judge may declare that the tenant is the “prevailing party.”  The prevailing party would be entitled to his/her attorneys’ fees and costs associated with the lawsuit. Additionally, if the attorney takes the matter on a contingency fee basis, the judge could award a contingency fee multiplier, which multiplies the attorneys’ fees by 1.5 to 3 times the actual amount of the attorneys’ fees incurred.  

Damages in Habitability Violation Cases

As we explained in our previous blog, a landlord is legally obliged to provide tenants with housing that conforms to certain living standards. This obligation is commonly known as the warranty of habitability. A failure to ensure habitability may lead to a lawsuit. If the tenant prevails in such a lawsuit, he or she may be awarded the following kinds of damages:

  • Return of rent paid
  • Attorney fees
  • Emotional distress damages (if the tenant successfully proves that the landlord’s negligence in providing habitability caused him or her emotional distress)
  • Tort damages (if the tenant proves that the landlord’s negligence was a cause of the tenant’s injury, the tenant may file a personal injury claim and recover financial compensation for his or her injuries and related expenses)

Atlas Law – A Landlord’s Advocate

Being targeted with a lawsuit coming from a disgruntled tenant can be stressful for the landlord. However, in some instances, claims put forward by a tenant may be unfair and unwarranted. As a landlord, you need trusted legal assistance to protect your rights and interests. Atlas Law specializes in landlord-tenant cases and offers comprehensive legal assistance for a landlord. Please contact us today to schedule a consultation with one of our attorneys and obtain the help you need and deserve.

Providing a Livable Space: 10 Ways a Landlord Must Ensure Habitability

There is no doubt that managing a portfolio of rental properties can be a challenge even for the most conscientious landlord. The issues that need to be taken care of on a regular basis are numerous. Solving each and every one of them effectively and in a timely manner requires good planning, strategic thinking, and excellent management skills. However, no matter how many issues you need to handle as a landlord, property maintenance should always be at the top of your priority list. 

The consequences of leaving a leaking roof, faulty heating, or plumbing issues can ruin your reputation as a landlord. If you fail to resolve these problems promptly and effectively, your tenant may decide to take legal action against you for breaching the warranty of habitability. In Florida, the warranty of habitability is a common name for a set of housing statutes that protect the right of a tenant to a decent standard of living. In this article, you’ll learn what habitability means and what landlords are legally required to do to ensure habitable conditions of the property they are renting.

What Is Habitability?

Habitability is a broad legal concept. In general terms, it can be defined as the conformity of rental property with the basic living and safety standards. The warranty of habitability is an implied requirement which means that it doesn’t have to be stated explicitly in the rental or lease agreement. Additionally, a contract clause attempting to waive the warranty of habitability would be deemed against public policy and such unenforceable in most states.

While Florida Statutes do not contain the phrase “warranty of habitability,” the obligation of a landlord to ensure an appropriate standard of living is clearly defined in Section 83.51 of the Florida Statutes. According to s. 83.51, the landlord must comply with “. . . the requirements of applicable building, housing, and health codes.” Additionally, the landlord must ensure that the structural components of a rental property such as roofs, windows, doors, floors, steps, porches, etc. are in good repair and that the plumbing is in “reasonable working condition.”

Ways to Ensure Habitability

In practical terms, the above-mentioned requirements mean that a landlord should comply with the warranty of habitability in the following ways:

  1. Ensuring that the roof doesn’t leak.
  2. Providing windows and doors that are weather-tight and water-tight, and maintaining them in such condition.
  3. Maintaining the stairs in the safe-to-use condition.
  4. Ensuring that the house is reasonably rodent-proof.
  5. Ensuring hot water connection to the kitchen and the bathroom.
  6. Providing a flush toilet and maintaining it in good working condition.
  7. Providing a sufficient number of working electric outlets.
  8. Maintaining the electrical systems in working and safe condition.
  9. Taking appropriate care to ensure pest and rodent control and eliminating rats, mice, roaches, wood-destroying pests such as ants and termites, and bedbugs.
  10. Installing a working smoke detection device.

Facing a Lawsuit? Atlas Law Can Help

At times, even the most conscientious landlords face lawsuits from their disgruntled tenants. In some cases, such lawsuits are frivolous and unsubstantiated. As a landlord, you have every right to protect your reputation and interests by choosing a skillful lawyer to represent and protect you in a court of law. If you’re facing any legal issues coming from a dissatisfied tenant, do not hesitate to contact us. Our attorneys at Atlas Law will gladly review the issue you’re facing and advise with regards to the most advantageous solution available in your case. Please contact us to schedule a free consultation with a member of our legal team.

Abandonment Explained

Unreturned phone calls, text messages without answers and, often, at least a month’s worth of unpaid rent. These are usually the tell-tale signs that your tenant has abandoned their rented property. It can be stressful and frustrating when a tenant disappears without notice before the tenancy has ended. Such a situation can also deal a blow to your finances – whether or not the tenant was behind with their payments. Under such circumstances, you may feel pressured to start looking for a new tenant right away.

When a tenant disappears for a prolonged period of time without informing their landlord, it may constitute a breach of the lease agreement and count as abandonment. However, before a landlord can change the locks and embark on a search for a new tenant, they need to find out whether the previous tenant has truly abandoned the property. Read on to learn what constitutes tenant abandonment in Florida and what your obligations as a landlord are if you’re ever faced with this issue.

What Constitutes Abandonment?

According to Florida law, a landlord can assume that a tenant has abandoned the property if:

  • the tenant has been absent for longer than half the time of periodic rental payment
  • the rent is not current (or, in other words, the rent is due)
  • the tenant has not notified the landlord about their prolonged absence

It should be noted that this criteria is established pursuant to Chapter 83 of the Florida Statutes, so if you are a landlord renting a lot to a tenant in a manufactured home community, this abandonment provision would not apply to you.   

Landlord’s Obligation in Case of Abandonment

Provided that the conditions mentioned above are met, a landlord can then take actions to minimize financial losses by re-renting the property. A landlord may enter the abandoned property to perform any necessary improvements and repairs. The landlord may also change the locks and collect the old tenant’s belongings. 

Importantly, however, according to Florida law, a landlord may not simply dispose of the old tenant’s property without first attempting to reach the tenant. The landlord would have to provide the tenant with written notice and an opportunity to recover the abandoned property. A tenant has 10-15 days to retrieve property, depending on how the notice is delivered to the tenant. After that period, the landlord may dispose of, retain, or resell the property.

If the value of the property left behind by the former tenant is worth at least $500.00, a special procedure must be followed. Specifically, the property must be sold at public sale by competitive bidding. The sale must be advertised in a newspaper of general circulation for at least two weeks and take place at least 10 days after the initial publication. 

Importantly, the landlord cannot retain the full amount of proceeds from such sale. Rather, after deducting any costs related to the storage, advertisement, sale, etc., the remaining proceeds must be returned to the former tenant. If attempts to contact the tenant prove to be unfruitful, the proceeds must go to the clerk of court in the county where the property was abandoned.

As shown above, dealing with an issue related to a troublesome tenant can be more complicated than it initially seems. In order to avoid any legal liability, a landlord is usually required to follow statutory procedures. That is why before taking any action regarding a tenant, it is better to first consult an experienced attorney. If you have any questions with regard to a matter related to your tenant, please contact Atlas Law – a landlord’s advocate.