Understanding the Appeals Process in an Eviction Case

Facing an eviction order can be scary – especially if you feel that the decision the court has made is unfair and unjustified. Thankfully, Florida state law provides a way for you to fight the unjustified denial of an eviction by appealing the judgment in your eviction case. In this article, we will briefly walk you through the appeals process in Florida.

It is important to note that you can only file for an appeal after the final judgment was made in the eviction case. If you don’t agree with the judge’s decision in your case and you think that procedural errors have been committed in the first trial, you may have a good reason to file an appeal.

A landlord has 30 days from the date the eviction order was given to file an appeal by presenting the court with the required documents. The steps you must take in order for the appeals to be properly filed and recognized by the court include:

  • Notice of Appeal – The appellant must first file the notice of appeal with the appropriate appeals court (typically the court in which the final judgment was rendered). In addition, a filing fee of up to $300 must be paid.
  • Preparation of the Record – While the record is prepared by the clerk of the court, the appellant must ensure that the record contains all the records and documents they deem necessary to be included. The appellant will usually have 10 days to communicate their instructions to the clerk of the court.  This usually includes the additional of any trial transcripts, affidavits, or depositions that were taken as part of the original proceeding.
  • Docketing Statements and/or Disclosures – These include important information about the appeal such as the details of the initial judgment, parties involved, and attorneys who represent them.
  • Appellate Briefs – In appellate briefs, the parties present their arguments. Briefs are extremely important since the appellate court’s judgment will be based primarily on the information presented in the briefs. Unlike the original action, there is no trial.  No additional or new evidence is heard by the appellate court, as the purpose of the appeal is to argue that there was a procedural problem that occurred during the original eviction proceeding. The appealing party is responsible for presenting the initial brief. Once the initial brief is filed by the appealing party, the respondent will file the answer brief whose purpose is to defend the decision that was taken at the initial hearing. The appellant will have the chance to counter these arguments in the reply brief.

Appellate Proceedings

Once all the formal requirements pertaining to filing an appeal have been met, appellate proceedings may be initiated. Importantly, during an appeal, the appellate court will not consider new evidence or re-try the case. Rather, the purpose of the appeal is to find out if legal or procedural mistakes were committed at the initial hearing.

Some appeals may involve the oral argument in which parties appear before the court to present their position orally. The judges often takes advantage of this to ask additional questions to both the appellant and the respondent. The appellate court’s decision isn’t announced during the oral argument. Rather, the decision is issued in the written form after oral argument has been heard.  It is not uncommon for an appellate court to issue an opinion months after the oral argument occurs.

Landlords who lost their initial eviction hearing should be aware that filing an appeal on eviction judgment isn’t a DIY project. Moreover, it may be more cost effective to file a new eviction action instead of going through the appeals process.  Closely cooperating with an eviction lawyer with experience in real estate litigation will be crucial to the success of the appeal. Atlas Law attorneys have successfully represented the interests of landlords, including handling of appellate matters. If you are facing a court decision that you feel is unfair, please contact us immediately to take advantage of important protections our office can offer you.

4 Common Security Deposit Disputes

Even though largely unwanted and inconvenient, legal disputes about money are a frequent part of everyday life – both for business and individuals. One of the most common disputes we see involves tenants suing their landlords for the return of their security deposit. As a landlord, having basic knowledge about such disputes can help you both avoid unnecessary legal battles and effectively protect your rights if you find yourself in the middle of one. In this article, we will briefly analyze 4 common security deposit disputes.

1. Landlord Decides to Keep the Deposit for Wrong Reasons

According to Florida state law, landlords may have valid reasons to withhold the security deposit. Such reasons include:

  • Non-payment of rent (the deposit will be kept to cover the unpaid rent)
  • Certain violations of the lease agreement (depending on the wording of the lease)
  • Damage to the property in excess of normal wear and tear (the deposit will be kept to cover the costs of repairs)
  • Unpaid utilities (the deposit will be kept to cover the unpaid bills)

If a landlord tries to keep the deposit for reasons that aren’t lawful, the tenant may sue to recover the deposit, as well as legal fees.

2. Landlord Doesn’t Comply with Rules for Returning Deposits

Florida state law also clearly specifies the correct procedure a landlord must follow if they have valid reasons to withhold the deposit. Most importantly, a landlord must meet a strict deadline for returning the deposit or providing notice that the landlord intends to keep all or a portion of the deposit. If the landlord decides to keep a part of the deposit, the landlord must provide the tenant with advanced notice and itemize the intended deductions. If the landlord fails to meet the deadlines or to follow the procedure stipulated by the law, the tenant may sue the landlord with a high chance of winning the dispute.

3. Tenant Doesn’t Agree with the Deductions

As mentioned, a landlord may decide to make a deduction and withhold a part of the deposit to balance out the expenses related to the damage caused by the tenant or to cover abnormal cleaning costs. However, a tenant may dispute the amount of such a deduction. For example, the tenant may argue that the damage to the property is due to normal everyday use or that the claimed deduction is much higher than the reasonable costs of the repairs. In any case, if the sides don’t manage to work out an agreement, the matter may go to court.

4. Security Deposit Doesn’t Cover the Damage or Unpaid Rent

If the amount of the security deposit transferred by the tenant to the landlord at the time of the initial move-in isn’t sufficient to cover the expenses related to back rent, cleaning, or repairs, the landlord must provide the tenant with a demand letter. This letter should itemize the costs, state the amount the landlord is claiming, and mention a clear deadline to pay the outstanding amount. The demand should also inform the tenant that he or she will face legal action upon failure to comply with the demand. If the letter isn’t met with the expected action on the part of the tenant, the landlord may decide to take the matter to a small claims court.

Contact Atlas Law With Regards to Your Security Deposit Dispute

The attorneys at Atlas Law represent landlords in their security deposit disputes and claims. If you are currently facing such a dispute and you feel that your legal rights are being violated, please contact us without delay. We will schedule a consultation with you where an experienced attorney will analyze your case and inform you about your legal options.

Understanding Replevin

According to the legal dictionary, replevin is “an action seeking return of personal property wrongfully taken or held by the defendant.” This legal procedure can be used by a person in order to reclaim goods or objects that have been taken away and illegally held by another individual. Additionally, replevin can be also invoked by a creditor when a debtor defaults on a loan secured by personal property. In such situations, the creditor can use a replevin action to recover collateral, that is, a property pledged as security for repayment of a loan. Other circumstances in which replevin may be invoked include:

  • A family member seeking to reclaim a property held by the administrator of the estate of a deceased person
  • A car loan company seeking to reclaim a vehicle after a payment default
  • A tenant trying to repossess property held by his or her landlord in exchange for rent that was in arrears

In Florida, a person, a company, or an organization who finds themselves in one of the situations mentioned above – or a similar one – may try to reclaim their property by using self-help means, replevin without notice, or replevin with notice.

Self-help Repossession

When a debtor defaults on a loan, Florida law allows the creditor to reclaim the collateral for the loan by self-help means, that is, without the use of a legal process. However, the debtor must do so in a way that doesn’t breach the peace. One of the most common circumstances in which a debtor may resort to repossession is when an item purchased on credit – such as a car, a boat, etc. – is in itself the collateral for the loan. In Florida, a creditor can seize the collateral as soon as a default occurs if the purchase agreement states so.  It should be noted that for manufactured homes, a creditor may not be able to reclaim the collateral through self-help means. If the owner still resides in the manufactured home or still has items in the manufactured home, the law confirms that seizing the manufactured home constitutes a breach of the peace and is unwarranted.

Replevin without Notice

A person or a company seeking to reclaim their property may file for a replevin action with a court. In order to be able to obtain a Writ of Replevin, a person will have to prove the ownership of the property in question or the rights to the collateral. In order to do so, he or she may be required to provide corresponding documents such as ownership titles or specific agreements along with other pertinent information, such as:

  • Description of the property or collateral
  • Value of the property
  • Location of the property
  • Statement of ownership
  • Statement that the property is wrongfully detained

Replevin without notice means that the person that the debtor who is in illegal possession of the property will not be notified of the proceedings. In such cases, the creditor or the owner will be required to post a bond to the amount equal to the value of the collateral or double the amount owed. After that, the court will issue a Prejudgment Writ of Replevin to be delivered to the Sheriff, who will ensure a peaceful repossession of the property. Sometime later, a court hearing will take place in which the court will render the final judgment with regards to the property or collateral in question.

Replevin with Notice

In the case of replevin with notice, a person will not be able to reclaim the possession of a property before a judgment is rendered by the court but, at the same time, the plaintiff will not be required to file a cash deposit or a bond. This is the action most commonly taken for manufactured home replevin actions.  In this scenario, a debtor will be required to appear at an Order to Show Cause Hearing. At the hearing, a judge will decide the ownership of the property. The debtor will have an opportunity to present evidence as to why the property or the collateral should not be immediately returned to the plaintiff. However, if the plaintiff presents sufficient evidence of his or her claim, the court will usually issue the writ of replevin that will be delivered to the Sheriff.

Seeking a Replevin Action? Contact the Right Lawyer First

If you find yourself in a situation in which your property is being illegally held by another person, you may be able to reclaim it through a replevin action. However, much will depend on specific circumstances of your case. Replevin is one of the legal remedies used in landlord-tenant disputes, and is most commonly used when a manufactured home owner defaults on his/her agreement to pay his/her lender. Atlas Law is a law firm specializing in a variety of landlord-tenant issues. Please contact us today to discuss the details of your case and learn how we can help you reach a solution uniquely tailored to your needs and circumstances.

Mobile Home Management: 3 Tips to Handle an Eviction

Affordable housing is one of the most pressing issues American society is facing today. Prices of traditional housing units have been rising steadily over the last few years, making many American families pursue less expensive accommodation options. With a price of $90,000 for a unit, there is little wonder why mobile homes are one of the fastest-growing housing options in the U.S. It is estimated that about 18 million Americans currently live in some form of manufactured housing.

If you are an owner of the residential property and manage a home for rent, you may be interested in expanding your portfolio to add mobile homes. As a mobile home manager and landlord, you need to know that there are specific statutes in Florida housing law that regulate the relationship between a landlord and a tenant renting a lot in a mobile home community. In this article, we will provide an overview of the laws and regulations that a landlord must adhere to in handling an eviction situation.

Only Evict for Lawful Reasons

A landlord must only initiate eviction proceedings if a legally valid reason for it exists. Among the reasons mentioned by Florida laws are:

  • Non-payment of lot rent and utilities
  • Change in the land use
  • Violation of the property rules
  • Violation of the lease agreement

Trying to evict a tenant for other reasons may be illegal and make a landlord liable for breaking the law. In order to protect themselves, a tenant may sue the landlord for trespassing, unlawful eviction, or intentional infliction of emotional distress and claim financial compensation.

Follow the Proper Eviction Procedure

Before taking any action, a landlord must notify a tenant about the termination of the lease and provide a reason for it.

  • If the reason is a non-payment of rent, the landlord must provide the tenant with a 5-day notice.
  • For violations of federal, state, or local laws related to health, safety, and welfare of other residents, a tenant must be given 7 days to move.
  • In the case of a change in the land use, mobile home owners must be notified 6 months in advance.
  • For a severe violation of property laws, a landlord must serve a tenant with a 7-day notice.
  • In the case of minor violations, a tenant will be given 7 days to correct the issue. If a tenant then repeats the same violation within the next 12 months, he or she will be given 30 days to move.

If a tenant doesn’t vacate the property within the period mentioned in the written notice, the landlord may file an eviction lawsuit. If the tenant loses the lawsuit, a judge will authorize the clerk of court to issue a writ of possession that is served to the tenant by the sheriff. The writ of possession cannot issue until 10 days have passed after the court’s final judgment.  Service of the writ by the sheriff will occur by the sheriff taping the writ to the door of the mobile home in question. Importantly, it is then the sheriff and not the landlord who can forcibly move tenant from the property.

Avoid Self-Help Eviction

Self-help eviction is a term describing practices a landlord may try to take to intimidate or threaten a tenant into leaving the property. Self-help eviction is unlawful and may put a landlord in the position of legal liability. Some of the illegal self-help eviction actions are:

  • turning off utilities to the lot
  • threatening or intimidating a tenant
  • forcibly entering a tenant’s property
  • forcibly moving a tenant’s mobile home

Dealing with a Troublesome Mobile Home Owner? Contact Atlas Law

We are attorneys at law practicing Tampa, Florida, and we have an ample experience in advising and representing our clients in eviction cases in Florida. If you are dealing with issues such as a non-payment of rent, extremely late payments, lease agreement violations, and more – do not hesitate to contact us. We will help you make sure your rights and interest are protected and that you stay free of liability when you initiate eviction proceedings.

Common Eviction Costs and How to Reduce Them

A troublesome tenant may cost you money and your good reputation as a landlord. Dealing with them may also cause you a lot of unnecessary stress and consume time. In some situations – like non-payment of rent, extremely late payments, or breach of lease agreement – eviction may seem like the only viable solution to your tenant problems. Before you decide to take this serious legal step, however, you must be aware of the costs related to the eviction process. In this blog, we explore common expenses a landlord must be prepared to bear before, during, and after the eviction. We also tackle the question if it is possible to reduce the eviction costs.

Fees Related to Serving & Filing

As we mentioned in our August blog, each eviction must closely follow a process delineated by both state and county laws. Such laws state, for example, that before initiating any action to evict a tenant, they must be served a notice of eviction. If you’d like a professional to prepare such notice for you, this will likely be the first cost you’ll have to bear with relation to an eviction.

The notice must be then served to the tenant. Again, while you may choose to do that yourself, many prefer to have a third party – for example, a process server – deliver the notice. This solution is called civil processing and its advantage is that it creates an official record of the delivery. However, you must be prepared to pay a fee for it.

After the notice has been delivered and before you can move forward with the eviction, you need to file important paperwork – such as a Summons and a Complaint for Eviction and Damages – with your local or district court. At this stage, you will need to pay filing and processing fees. In Florida, these fees will cost you about $250, with increasing costs if there is more than one tenant.

Court Costs and Legal Fees

In addition to the initial paperwork that you file with the court, you will likely be required to file additional documents at every stage of the eviction. The costs of legal proceedings can quickly add up, especially if the eviction is contested by the tenant. Such expenses may relate to a court review of your case, the discovery process, and a jury trial. Depending on the circumstances, all such expenses may easily reach a few hundred, and sometimes thousands of dollars.

Attorney Fees

Due to the complexity of your eviction case, or simply for your peace of mind, you may require the assistance of an eviction attorney. There are different ways in which lawyers may charge you for their services. Some use a flat-rate package that includes the preparation of the needed documents and a number of court appearances. Others charge for their work according to their billable hourly rate. If your eviction case is contested and a hearing is necessary, attorney fees will likely be higher.

Other Eviction Related Costs

If the court approves of the eviction, or if you win your eviction case, you must be prepared for the cost of enforcing the eviction. For example, you will have to pay a fee service of the Writ of Possession in the amount of $90. After the actual, physical eviction has taken place, you will likely have to clean or even renovate your property, which will entail additional costs.

How to Reduce Eviction Costs

Most of the costs and fees mentioned above are mandatory and therefore impossible to avoid if you’re evicting a tenant. However, according to Florida Statutes, as a prevailing party in an eviction lawsuit, you are entitled to recover court costs and attorney fees from the losing party.

Nevertheless, the best way to reduce eviction costs is to avoid evictions altogether by investing money in better tenant-screening. While there are no guarantees, choosing tenants with a good credit score, solid references, and a professional tenant application will be less likely to give you lawful reasons for eviction.

Atlas Law – Trusted Florida Eviction Lawyers

At times, though, eviction may be necessary. If you are losing money or your good reputation as a landlord due to a troublesome tenant, contact Atlas Law. We are Florida attorneys who specialize in finding innovative solutions to complex eviction cases. Contact us today and schedule a consultation to talk about the details of your eviction case.

Is it Time? How to Determine When to Move Forward with Eviction

Eviction can be a messy and costly process. That’s why few landlords, if any, would rush with a decision to evict a tenant even if the relationship they have is far from perfect. Additionally, evicting a tenant for personal or unlawful reasons may warrant a retaliatory legal action initiated by the tenant. Even if a landlord feels like they have all the reason to proceed with the eviction, a threat of a lawsuit may make them think twice before going through with it.

Nevertheless, a troublesome tenant can negatively influence a landlord’s reputation, cause financial losses, and even become a threat to other occupants of the building. If you are a landlord, you should be aware that the law protects your rights and offers a framework for lawful evictions of extremely troublesome tenants. In our August blog, we offered some suggestions on how to stay out of legal trouble when evicting a tenant. This month, we will explore some reasons why eviction may actually be the only way to solve problems in a building that you own.

Tenant Repeatedly Failed to Pay Rent and Accumulated Debt

Most landlords are reasonable when faced with a tenant who has encountered a financial struggle and is unable to pay rent for a month or makes the payment a little late. Many such issues can be resolved thanks to good will shown by both parties. However, a repeated, unapologetic non-payment of rent is a lease violation and a financial hazard that few landlords can and are willing to afford. A landlord must remember, however, that they are obliged to deliver an eviction notice to the tenant with a 3 or 5-day notice period (depending on the property) before initiating further action.

Tenant Caused Major Damage to the Property

Normal wear and tear is not a lawful reason to initiate an eviction. However, intentional and extensive damage to the property can negatively influence its value and entail financial losses to the landlord, at the very least those related to repair costs. Similarly, a tenant cannot make significant changes or repairs to the property without a landlord’s permission or if such changes are not covered in the lease agreement. Both damaging the property and making illegal changes may constitute a lease violation, and are good reasons to start an eviction. However, if a tenant commits to repairing the damage and actually makes the repairs, the reason may cease to be valid.

Tenant Engages in Illegal Use of the Property

Illegal use of the property may entail engaging in some illegal activity on the property, but it can also mean using the property for business purposes even if the business itself is legal. If the property you are renting is residential, operating a business or commercial activities out of it may be illegal. Before taking eviction action on the basis of this reason, it is best to consult all the details and circumstances involved with an eviction attorney.

Ready to Evict a Tenant? Seek Legal Advice First

Taking care of all the legal aspects of an eviction may be stressful, but it’s even more nerve-wracking if the matter ends up in court. That’s why before taking this drastic step, you should make sure you have a trusted legal professional at your side. At Atlas Law, our attorneys have ample experience in handling complicated eviction cases. We will gladly help you make sure you stay out of trouble while protecting your property and financial interests. Contact us without delay to discuss your legal options.

4 Reasons to Consider Investing in Real Estate

Investing means putting your assets to work so that you can increase your net value, enjoy additional income, have more funds when you retire, or save up for a child’s college tuition. In fact, once you have enough assets, investing is the only logical way of taking care of your growing wealth. However, when making a decision to invest, people usually face a dilemma: “What should I invest in?”

The stock market is likely one of the answers that most readily come to mind. Indeed, investing in stock can yield great returns – but it doesn’t come without its risk. If you are looking for a reasonable alternative to investing in stock – one that would offer comparable or better returns but without the volatility – the real estate market might be a perfect option for you. In this blog, we will consider 4 reasons to consider investing in real estate.

High Tangible Asset Value

The value of some assets will decrease over time. This can be true both of a stock – the market value of a company can drop rapidly and the company’s shares will plummet – but also of concrete things and items like, for example, cars. A house or land, on the other hand, will always have value. In addition, it is likely that a real estate property will steadily gain its value over time. And even though special circumstances or trends on the market can make the value of these assets drop as well, you can protect yourself from heavy losses with homeowner’s insurance.

Better Returns Than the Stock Market

It may seem counterintuitive to think that the real estate market provides better investment returns than the stock market, but this is what the data tells us. Since 2000, the annual returns on investment in the stock market averaged 5.43%, whereas real estate investment earned 10.71% annually. The reasons for higher returns from the real estate market investments are both appreciation (or the rise in value – currently, it averages 3% to 4% annually) and the income generated from renting out the property.

Tax Benefits

There are numerous tax advantages that come with owning a real estate property, especially if you own a rental property. In such case, you can deduct, for example, the interest portion of the payment towards the loan you took to buy the property. You can also deduct operating expenses, insurance, and depreciation. In fact, rental property owners are allowed to take tax deductions for any legitimate cost related to running a rental property.

Rental Yield

Speaking of rental property, the rental yield – or in other words the annual rental income – is yet another financial advantage you gain when you own a real estate property that you decide to rent. Renting out a property is a great way of earning passive income – money that you earn without an active involvement.

Investing in Rental Property? Contact a Landlord’s Advocate

At Atlas Law, you will find a host of experienced, dedicated attorneys who can help you with all the aspects of property management, investment protection, and more. We can also provide advice related to difficult landlord-tenant relationships and represent you in litigation. Contact us today to experience the comprehensive legal care and assistance we offer.

How to Stay Out of Legal Trouble While Evicting a Tenant

When faced with a tenant who repeatedly fails to pay rent or frequently violates the rental agreement in some other way, a landlord may feel the only way to deal with this problem is to evict the tenant. However, the decision to evict a troublesome tenant should not be taken lightly. The eviction process can be long and costly and cause a landlord a lot of stress. In addition, Florida – like other states – has very specific laws that govern the process. By failing to adhere to these laws, a landlord may run the risk of a countersuit and suffer additional financial losses. In this blog, we will discuss 5 things that landlords must absolutely avoid in order to stay out of legal trouble while evicting a tenant in Florida.

Evicting a Tenant for Unlawful Reasons

Eviction may only take place if there are solid reasons for it. These reasons are clearly defined by the law and they include:

  • non-payment of rent or extremely late payments
  • violation of the lease or rental agreement
  • destruction of property
  • disturbing the neighbors in a way which constitutes a breach of peace
  • engaging in unlawful activities on the premises (such as selling drugs)

Trying to evict a tenant on grounds other then these may be considered unlawful and results in nothing more than an unnecessary legal battle with little chance of success. If a landlord isn’t sure if they have a valid reason for eviction, it will be best to contact an eviction lawyer for a consultation.

Trying to Evict by Extralegal Means

Even when there are serious and lawful reasons for eviction, a landlord must refrain from trying to evict a tenant by themselves. They must also avoid any actions aiming to force the tenant out of the premises, whether by the use of physical strength or strategies such as such as changing locks, turning off utilities, or communicating threats. All such actions are unlawful and may result in the tenant filing civil charges against the landlord.

Failure to Deliver the Eviction Notice

For an eviction to be lawful, a landlord must follow all the procedures stipulated by the law. Florida requires a landlord to write an eviction notice and serve it – or in other ways, personally deliver it – to the tenant. After that, the landlord must let a certain amount of time pass before they can proceed with the process.

If the reason for the eviction is a failure to pay rent, the notice period is three or five days, depending on the type of property that is being rented. In the case of a violation of the lease and rental agreement, a landlord must usually give the tenant 7 days to cure, or correct, the violation. If the rent is paid or the violation corrected within the stipulated period, the landlord cannot proceed with the eviction.

It is equally important to note that the notice must contain no errors or mistakes. If some information on the notice is lacking or incorrect, the landlord must fix it, serve the notice again, and wait for the stipulated period to pass before taking the next step in the eviction process.

Violating the Fair Housing Act

According to the Fair Housing Act – a federal anti-discriminatory law that has also been adopted by the state of Florida – it is illegal for a landlord to discriminate against a tenant based on factors such as race, religion, gender, national origin, familial status, and disability. Any eviction action based on such characteristics would be unlawful and invalid.

Forgetting Tenants Can Fight an Eviction

Tenants in Florida have the right to contest the eviction process if they feel their rights have been violated. In order to avoid costly legal proceedings or civil charges, it is usually best for a landlord to consult a lawyer before starting the eviction proceedings.

Atlas Law provides landlords with comprehensive legal assistance and innovative solutions in difficult eviction cases and other landlord/tenant litigation matters. If you are a landlord and are facing challenges related to a troublesome tenant, do not hesitate to contact us. We will schedule a consultation with you in order to understand your circumstances and provide advice with regards to your legal options.

 

Property Owners: How to Ensure You’re In Compliance with the Fair Housing Act

The Fair Housing Act (the “Act”) was introduced in the United States in 1968 to guarantee equal rights to rent or buy a dwelling – such as a house or an apartment – for all. Originally prohibiting housing discrimination or tenant screening on the basis of race, color, religion, and national origin, over the years other groups have gained protection under the Act. Today, it is illegal to refuse to sell or rent a property to any person because of race, color, disability, religion, sex, familial status, or national origin. While the Fair Housing Act is a piece of legislation operating on the federal level, the State of Florida fully adopted it, making it a part of the state law as well.

According to Florida Fair Housing Laws, everyone who applies for a lease agreement or seeks to purchase real estate must be given the same consideration and treated fairly. While some restrictions and requirements on prospective tenants may be legal, landlords and property owners may at times inadvertently engage in actions that are tantamount to discrimination and put them in violation of the fair housing laws. In this article, we explain how to avoid that and ensure compliance with the Fair Housing Act.

Classes Protected Under the Act

As mentioned above, the Fair Housing Act prohibits discrimination on the basis of a prospective tenant’s or property buyer’s race, color, disability, religion, sex, familial status, or national origin. The definition of race, color, religion, and sex are straightforward and do not need further explanation. However, a good understanding of what is meant by disability and familial status can help avoid any potential violation of the Act.

Familial status is defined as “one or more individuals (who have not attained the age of 18 years) being domiciled with a) a parent or another person having legal custody of such individual or individuals; or b) the designee of such parent or other person having such custody, with the written permission of such parent or other person.” What this means in practice is that a refusal to rent or sell a property to a family with children, or to a pregnant woman, simply because they have kids – as well as different treatment of the tenants/buyers based on this factor – may constitute a violation of the Act.

Disability is defined as “a physical or mental impairment which substantially limits one or more major life activities; a record of such an impairment; or being regarded as having such an impairment.” It is important to note that under this definition and its current understanding, the use of, or an addiction to, illegal substances doesn’t constitute a disability.  

Unlawful Actions

Avoiding discrimination of the classes mentioned in the Fair Housing Act means that a landlord or property owner cannot treat their prospective tenants or buyers differently on the basis of the race, color, disability, religion, sex, familial status, or national origin. This may include:

  • refusing to rent or sell a property
  • providing different rental/sale terms, conditions, or privileges
  • advertising indicating preference
  • interfering with a tenant’s enjoyment or exercising their housing rights as well as coercion, intimidation, or threatening

Lawful Requirements

Ensuring compliance with the Fair Housing Act doesn’t mean that landlords and property owners cannot set some requirements for the prospective tenants or buyers. The key here is consistency – the same standards must apply to all potential applicants. Some of the reasonable requirements may include:

  • meeting a minimum credit score
  • meeting a minimum requirement with regard to income and time of employment
  • no criminal record
  • no prior evictions or foreclosures

Of course, the law continues to evolve, and the Act is the source of the recent influx of emotional support animal litigation.  Further, HUD has published opinions regarding the legality of utilizing criminal background checks in tenant screenings. What was once a clear issue has become murky and gray based on HUD’s insistence that these matters be reviewed on a “case-by-case” basis.

Ensure Compliance – Contact a Lawyer

If you are a landlord or property owner in Florida, you need to have a proper and lawful screening process in place for your prospective tenant. A proper screening process may help filter out irresponsible tenants who could jeopardize the status of your property, as well as your finances.

Nevertheless, violating the Fair Housing Act, even inadvertently, can lead to litigation and fines. That is why it is so important to consult an experienced real estate lawyer to ensure that your screening process doesn’t violate any of the aspects of the Act.

Atlas Law is one of the few law firms in the state of Florida that has successfully defended a landlord in a Federal jury trial regarding the removal of an alleged emotional support animal.  If you feel that your screening process needs a review from an attorney or if you are involved in litigation over perceived Fair Housing Act violation, contact us immediately. Call us at 813.241.8269 or reach out to speak with Brian Chase directly at brian@atlaslaw.com.

What You Can and Cannot Use Security Deposits For in Florida

A security deposit is a part of virtually every lease agreement and one of the key requirements for the tenant if they want to rent a unit in your community. It serves as a measure of protection for the landlord’s property in case of unintentional damage on the part of the tenant and thus gives both parties some peace of mind. Florida’s landlord-tenant law precisely describes how security deposits must be handled, so in this post, we will explore what security deposits can and cannot be used for in Florida.

Investments

According to Florida landlord-tenant law, the money from security deposits cannot be freely used or invested. Rather, it must be stored in a bank account or posted as a surety bond. The information about the way the money is stored and other pertaining details must be disclosed to the tenant in writing within 30 days of receiving the deposit. While the landlord may place the money in either an interest or a non-interest bearing account, any interest must be paid back to the tenant either annually or at the end of the lease.

However, if a tenant wrongfully terminates the tenancy, no interest will be due.

Deduction to Cover Nonpayment of Rent

In Florida, a deduction from the security deposit can be made to cover the lost rent. As it is a tenant’s contractual obligation to pay a monthly rent, a failure to pay is considered a breach of lease. This is a sufficient reason to deduct a portion of the security deposit to recover the unpaid rent.

Deduction to Cover Damage to the Property

The security deposit may be kept in part or in full if the tenant caused material damage to the property. The damage, however, must not be due to normal wear and tear.

Deduction to Cover Cleaning Costs

Cleaning costs can only be deducted from the security deposit if the necessary cleaning is excessive and the condition the apartment has been left in is worse than can be reasonably attributed to normal wear and tear.  The overwhelming majority of the time, cleaning costs cannot be deducted from the security deposit.

Deduction to Cover Unpaid Bills

If a tenant is required by the lease agreement to cover the cost of utilities, unpaid bills may justify the landlord keeping the security deposit in part or in full.  You should be sure that your lease specifically requires the tenant to cover utility costs before making any such deduction.

Is Your Claim on Security Deposit Disputed?

If you are a landlord and feel that you have valid, legally justified reasons to keep the security deposit, you must inform your tenant about it in writing. If you do not have a claim for the security deposit and you are returning the deposit to the tenant, you have 15 days to do so, starting from the termination of the lease. If you are going to retain all or a portion of the security deposit, you have 30 days to inform your tenant that you wish to keep all or a portion of the deposit. The tenant has 15 days after receiving your security deposit retention letter to respond to your claim.

If the tenant objects your claim on the security deposit, it is usually best to contact a dedicated Florida eviction attorney to have the circumstances of your case closely reviewed and advised on the options available to you.

Attorney Brian Chase has extensive experience in dealing with landlord/tenant disputes and handles eviction and security deposit cases across all jurisdictions and counties in Florida. Typically, other lawyers in the area will know the laws in just your jurisdiction. We can handle cases no matter where you are in Florida. We offer flat fee evictions, weekly progress updates at no cost, and no coverage counsel. Contact Atlas Law to see why we are called the landlord’s advocate and how we’ll be able to help in your case.