What Is A Criminal Background Tester?

These are also referred to as Fair Housing Testers. If you are a landlord, you should know what they are and why they are contacting you. 

The Fair Housing Amendments Act was passed in 1988. Because of it, landlords are legally prohibited from rejecting a renter’s application due to age, race, sex, religion, or national origin.

For anyone who rents properties, you should be aware that people and groups may apply to ask about renting from you. Their sole purpose is to see if you are employing discriminatory practices in your application process. 

Criminal Background Checks

Landlords can and do run criminal background checks on future tenants. But is this method for screening discriminatory?

This is a question that The Department of Housing and Urban Development had to address. Landlords wanted to know more about the people that were going to live on the property. Did the future tenant commit violent acts, destroy property, or illegally sell drugs or weapons? 

Maybe the criminal background checks were not discriminatory, but were they indirectly acting as such? HUD references disparate impact theory. It elaborates on things that are not in and of themselves to be discriminatory but can still have the same effect. 

For instance, if a landlord had a policy that she would not rent to anyone with red shoes, it doesn’t discriminate against race, sex, or religion. But what if a local church had members who only wore red shoes? 

HUD’s guidance to landlords is that it should not impact a protected person if they do background checks. Because disparate impact discrimination is indirect, people can be accused of discrimination without intending to be. 

Be Fair & Consistent

If you do not understand the Fair Housing Amendments Act, contact an attorney who works with landlords. There are several ways they can help. You want to ensure that nothing you do is perceived or misunderstood to be an act of discrimination. 

There are people who will test you. They are criminal background testers. You may meet them in person, or they could call. Either way, they will pose as potential applicants. 

This is where fairness and consistency counts. For instance, how do you respond if someone calls and asks if her background will be an issue? How can you give a definitive answer because you do not know this person, nor have you done a background check? Perhaps you should make a policy that you don’t turn people away unless they have completed an application. 

If this is your policy, then simply invite this person to submit a rental application. Then, and only then, will you be able to make an informed decision. 

Atlas Law

As a landlord, it is your responsibility to act within the law. When you work with Atlas Law, it is our job to ensure you understand how to comply with them. If you are a landlord who needs legal advice about evictions, contact us to schedule a consultation. Atlas Law handles eviction and real estate cases throughout the entire state of Florida.

How 15 Days Can Have An Impact On A Landlord

Whether you are a landlord or a tenant, it is essential to know the rights and responsibilities of tenants as outlined by Florida law. Even in the absence of a lease, these laws will serve in its place. 

Specifically, it is Chapter 83 of the Florida Residential Landlord Tenant Act that outlines these rights and responsibilities. According to statute, every tenant has a right to the following:

  • Operable doors and windows (with locks)
  • Hot water and heat
  • Plumbing
  • The installation of working smoke detectors before the tenant moves in (for single-family homes and duplexes) 

As a landlord, your lease cannot override the Florida Residential Tenant Act. For example, your lease might state that you can enter the premises as needed. Regardless of what it says or what was signed, this goes against Florida law. Landlords can only enter for agreed-upon repairs. Notice must be given to the tenant, and you should make accommodations to be there at a convenient time. 

Miami-Dade Change From 15 to 30 Days

In Miami-Dade County, legislation was introduced—and passed—that changes the notice requirement for termination of leases. Landlords in Miami-Dade County need to understand the Florida Residential Tenant Act and follow any changes made to it. This is what changed:

Under the Florida Residential Tenant Act, as a  landlord, you must give at least 15 days notice to month-to-month tenants advising that you are terminating the rental agreement. For anyone who lives in Miami-Dade County, that timeline changed to a minimum of 30 days

The Miami-Dade Board of County Commissioners made the change from 15 to 30 days. Generally, state law governs landlord-tenant relationships. Local officials acknowledged as much. However, those same officials felt that tenants needed more time to locate new housing once a lease was terminated.  The change from 15 to 30 days is something that could be amended once the pandemic has ended. According to Florida law, if the tenant is paying weekly, they only have to give a week’s notice to the landlord.

If you are a landlord in Miami-Dade County who has followed and understood the Florida Residential Tenant Act, 15 days notice no longer applies. Plan on giving your month-to-month tenants a minimum of 30 days of notice.  

Atlas Law 

At Atlas Law, we are a landlord’s advocate. If you need legal counseling regarding the eviction of a tenant, contact Atlas Law to schedule a consultation. We distinguish ourselves by practicing in every county in Florida, across multiple jurisdictions.

What Does A “Moratorium” On Evictions Actually Mean?

A moratorium is a delay or a suspension of law, action, or even debt. An example of a widely-seen one was the moratorium on evictions that was established in October of 2020. 

Whether you are a landlord or a renter, misunderstanding what one means has serious financial—and possibly legal—consequences. Let’s take a deeper look at this from a landlord’s perspective.

Misunderstanding A Headline

When information gets put out regarding a moratorium, read the entire article—read multiple articles. And if it is vital to your livelihood, ask an attorney about how it applies to you. 

When the moratorium was established (and was ultimately extended), there was a general misconception that people could not be evicted. Landlords also thought they didn’t have any recourse. 

But did they?

Although it was true that people who didn’t pay their rent or mortgage couldn’t be evicted, it extended beyond that. Tenants were still required to formally declare that they were unable to pay due to an issue related to COVID-19. 

In Florida, attorneys have still been able to file for evictions—and they could even receive final judgments. For landlords who were financially struggling, they contacted attorneys and began the eviction process long before the moratorium ended. The eviction moratorium—which was established on a nationwide basis—was issued by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. 

It was never intended to release people from their contractual obligations to pay rent. For people who had already obtained final judgments, they were able to evict those who were not covered by the CDC’s order. Furthermore, for those renters who did qualify for protection from eviction, that in and of itself did not prevent an eviction. 

Past-Due Rent

Another aspect of the eviction moratorium that was overlooked (or misinterpreted) was the issue surrounding the money owed for rent. This was likely a result of people incorrectly assuming that they were released from a financial obligation. 

Due to some unexpected and severe economic challenges, people thought they were being offered relief by not paying their rent. Again, this was not true, nor was it the intent of the moratorium. The debt incurred from the moratorium didn’t disappear, nor would be forgiven. 

In the past, when there was a moratorium, your debts could still be handed over to a collection agency. Your credit score (and your ability to get another apartment) could be impacted as well. 

Atlas Law

At Atlas Law, we are the landlord’s advocate. If you have legal issues or questions regarding your tenants, we can advise you on your options. Don’t make the mistake of thinking you don’t have any recourse because you have rights. Contact Atlas Law today to schedule your consultation. We can also be reached at (813) 241-8269. 

How To Handle Bad Tenants

Though your bad tenants will likely (hopefully) be just a small portion of the people you rent to, they have the potential to take up a considerable amount of your time. When this happens, you devote too many minutes of your day trying to fix problems rather than growing your property management business. 

Common types of problems you are likely to encounter are people who destroy your property, who fail to pay their rent, or a combination of the two. This is when they violate their lease agreement, the document that outlined how much they would pay you in rent and how they would conduct themselves while living on your property. 

The quick response (but definitely not the quickest solution) is to move towards evicting them. Unfortunately, this is a timely process that incorporates lawyers, a legal process, and odds are, your renters will continue to violate their lease as you try to remove them from your property. Although eviction can still be inevitable, here are some steps to take before it gets there.

Prevent It Early 

Spend the time to develop a robust background screening process. This isn’t as complicated as it may sound. Try to focus on three things: employment, previous addresses, and credit scores. For the first two, verify that they are employed and try to talk to a previous landlord. Even though the former landlord has no reason to help you, they will not be able to hide their feelings for a tenant who didn’t pay rent or abused their property.

A credit check might cost upwards of $50, but it is an investment. It’s significantly cheaper than the cost of the eviction process. When you are meeting with the tenant, they will have to give their Social Security number and authorize you to run the credit check. And when you meet with them to show the property, ask questions and get a feel for who might be moving into your property.

Renters Who Won’t Pay

As much as it might upset you that they are not paying, don’t immediately assume that your tenant is doing so aggressively. If you are short on money because your tenants won’t pay, you are going to struggle financially due to no specific fault of your own.

Perhaps your tenant lost their job or is in the middle of a crisis. Trying to help them might go a long way for establishing a long-term professional relationship with them. To do this, consider putting them on a payment plan. A portion of your rent is better than none, and you will be establishing this plan for them to pay you the rent in full eventually. 

Another option is to see if they would consider having a roommate if the living space can accommodate it. They will get to pay less, and you will receive the entirety of your rent. 

Atlas Law 

At Atlas Law, we are equipped to cover eviction and real estate cases throughout the entire state of Florida. If you own property—or you’re a corporation that owns several properties—Atlas Law can be your single source for eviction proceedings. Contact us online to schedule a consultation.

2 (Very) Simple Ways Your Property Manager Can Market Your Properties

If you own rental properties, you may have chosen to hire a property manager—or you might be one yourself. The decision of whether to employ one is entirely built around your circumstances, your time, and your money. 

Regardless, the role of the property manager can extend beyond work orders, collecting rent, and managing your tenants. What if the position also included the responsibility to gain new tenants? For instance, if you own several properties, filling those with renters is a business need. It provides the revenue to pay for the property (and its manager). 

Basic supply and demand will prove that the more people you have interested in your property, the more you may be able to charge for rent. Here are some simple ways in which your property manager can help you market your property.

Referrals 

One of the best components of referrals is the cost: they are free. So if you are putting off marketing because you cannot afford it, then you are missing out on this very cost-effective strategy. 

This starts with creating a positive experience for your current tenants. If they do not enjoy renting from you, they are not going to refer you to their friends and family. Their experience may rely heavily on their interactions with the property manager—who is a direct reflection of the property owner.

Quality Tenants

Secondly, you want quality tenants. These are people who are respectful of your property, who pay on time, who contact the property manager for the things that correctly fall under his/her responsibilities. 

The property manager is in a position to see which tenants fit well into your business model. You should be investing in your property instead of continually charging tenants who are flagrantly mistreating their living space. This will demand time, energy, and money. Ultimately, you may have to pursue eviction and seek professional legal advice. 

Good tenants are more likely to refer you to other good tenants. Use your property manager as a source of information to understand who your best tenants are. Who pays on time? Who respects the other tenants? Who is polite? This last one can add to the reputation of your building. 

If your property manager can point out these tenants, invest in them. Maybe you choose not to raise their rent at the end of the year and tell them why. Or perhaps you just send them a card during the holidays and thank them for being a valued tenant. Ultimately, you are increasing your chances that your ideal tenant brings in more people similar to him or her.

Contact Atlas Law

If you or your property manager need a valued attorney to help you with evictions or other issues surrounding property management, contact Atlas Law today. We cover eviction and real estate cases in every jurisdiction of Florida. If you need support evicting tenants who are hurting your property or your business, then there is no one better to have in your corner than Atlas Law.  

Florida Landlords- Your Duty to Repair Explained

When you rent out an apartment, home, or other residential accommodation, you have certain responsibilities as a landlord. Foremost among them is the obligation to keep the unit in good condition. In this blog, we’ll review your responsibility when it comes to repairs and go over situations when the cost can come out of your tenant’s security deposit.

Landlord’s Duty to Repair in Florida

During the tenancy, you must maintain the structural elements of the unit or building, including the roof, floors, steps, windows, doors, and exterior walls. Your other maintenance responsibilities include: 

  • Keeping the heating and plumbing in good shape
  • Exterminating vermin and insects
  • Keeping common areas in a safe and clean condition
  • Maintaining working smoke detection devices
  • Repairing any damage to screens annually

If a tenant requests repairs, you have up to seven (7) days to complete them, provided that request involves an issue that violates Florida’s warranty of habitability. While it is typically your responsibility to cover the repair costs, under certain circumstances you may be able to deduct it from the tenant’s security deposit. 

Using the Security Deposit for Repair Costs

While you cannot normally deduct repair costs related to ordinary wear and tear, one of the purposes of a security deposit is to cushion you financially against any property damage that could result from tenant negligence or carelessness. Examples include:

  • Smashed or broken bathroom or kitchen fixtures
  • Floors or carpets damaged by pet urine
  • Doors broken off the hinges
  • Broken windows
  • Cracked or broken tiles
  • Deeply scratched hardwood floors

If your tenant causes this type of damage, you are legally permitted to deduct reasonable repair costs from their security deposit. 

What if the Tenant Objects to Using Their Security Deposit?

Your tenant may object to you using the security deposit to cover damages that they caused, either directly or indirectly. If the situation looks like it may escalate or you aren’t sure if you can deduct for certain damages, your best option is to consult with the Florida landlords’ rights attorney who can explain how state law applies to your situation.

Do You Need to Speak With a Florida Property Law Attorney?

If you are a Florida landlord with questions about your obligation to cover repair costs, let the landlord-tenant lawyers at Atlas Law help. The right advice from an attorney can ensure that any repair deductions are legally valid and, if the situation does escalate, we will protect your rights at any subsequent hearings or legal actions. To schedule a consultation today, call 813.241.8269.

5 Characteristics of a Good Investment Property

If you’re thinking about investing in a rental property, now is a better time than ever. Many people are putting off buying their first homes until they’re at least 30. According to M Report, the average age of homeowners is on the rise, especially in Florida, where Tampa homeowners have an average age of 58.3 years. Until they’re ready to buy, Floridians are living in rental properties like apartment buildings and mobile home communities.

However, not all properties on the market are a wise investment. Before you make an offer, confirm that it has the potential to deliver a reliable and ongoing cash flow. In this blog, we’ll identify 5 characteristics of a good investment property and how to spot them.

  1. Urban Location

While the idea of living in a remote beach house sounds divine, most renters want to be close to shopping malls, public transportation, and workplaces – all amenities that tend to make home buying in the area too expensive for them. Choose a property in a convenient location and you’ll rarely be short of tenants. 

  1. Strong Job Market

Areas with strong job opportunities always attract more tenants. If you see an announcement about a major employer moving to the area, you can practically count on people arriving in search of work. Demand for rentals will be higher, so your apartment building or mobile home community may receive more applications than you can accommodate.

  1. Good School District

Many young families choose to rent while they save up for a home, so the quality of local schools is important. When possible, parents will pay more to rent properties in a desirable school district. Visit Trulia Neighborhoods to learn more about the schools in the area.

  1. Neighborhood Type

The type of tenants you attract (and your vacancy rate) will be dictated by the neighborhood. For example, if you buy an apartment building near a college, you’ll be full during the school year and dealing with summer vacancies. On the other hand, a quiet neighborhood with shops within walking distance will attract young professionals and families who represent a reliable source of rental income all year round.

  1. Rent is Sustainable

The goal of an investment property is to make money. The general rule is that if the rent you can charge is 1% of the sale price, it may be a good opportunity. For example, if a home is for sale at $250,000 and you know you can rent it for $2,500, consider it further. You also want the mortgage payment (insurance and taxes not included) to be less than 50% of the rent, or you won’t make much money over the long term.

Do You Need a Florida Real Estate Attorney?

It may take a lot of research and footwork to identify the right investment property but when it happens, a Florida real estate attorney can guide you through the negotiation and closing processes. At Atlas Law, we support property investors by providing solid legal advice and due diligence services that verify the quality of their new opportunity. To schedule a consultation, contact us today at (813) 241-8269.

Understanding Disclosure Disputes in Real Estate

When someone sells a home or other piece of real estate, they are legally obligated to inform the buyer of known problems. If they do not disclose problems, the buyer can file a disclosure dispute with the courts to seek damages. In general, the person filing the disclosure dispute will ask the courts to require the seller to pay for the damages caused by the issue that was not disclosed and pay to have the issue fixed. With this in mind, it is always smart for the seller to disclose every problem they are aware of. Whether you are buying or selling real estate, read on to understand more about disclosure disputes.

Common Examples of Issues Not Disclosed

Anyone who is selling real estate needs to reveal major issues with the property that could impact the buyer in the future. The following are some of the most common things that trigger disclosure disputes in real estate:

  • Water Infiltration – If a basement has water leaking in during heavy rains, this must be disclosed.
  • Termites – Termites can be very difficult to get rid of completely, and the damage they cause can be very expensive.
  • Mold Issues – If a home has mold behind the walls, it can be overlooked during an inspection. With some types of mold, it can also be cleaned off so that it is not visible, but it will grow back.
  • Radon – If the home has tested positive for Radon, it should be disclosed. It is recommended that Radon tests be performed before buying or selling a home.

What is Needed in a Disclosure Dispute?

When a disclosure dispute goes to court, the plaintiff (buyer of the home) will need to be able to show several things in order to win the case. First, they need to show that there is an existing defect. They also need to show that the defect was not disclosed at the time of the sale, and that the seller was aware of the defect at that time. Finally, it must be shown that the issue was not something that should have been discovered during a routine inspection of the property.

Understanding Your Rights and Responsibilities

Whether buying or selling real estate, it is critical that you understand your rights and responsibilities when it comes to dealing with problems with the property. The best way to do this is to work with an experienced attorney who can work with you to ensure everything is handled properly. Atlas Law can help you throughout the real estate transaction to protect your interests now, and in the future. Please contact us to discuss your needs today.

Four Tips for Thriving as a Property Manager

Managing rental properties is no easy task. At any given moment, you have a lot to juggle. Rental agreements. Marketing. Upkeep. Corresponding with tenants and potential tenants. The list could go on and on! 

At Atlas Law, we have a deep understanding of how much is on your plate. In today’s blog post, we’re sharing our four biggest tips for success. We hope these ideas will help you thrive in your role as a property manager!

  1. Prioritize maintenance and customer service. 

Number one on our list essential boils down to keeping your tenants happy. It is wise to be proactive about maintenance matters and not wait until something becomes an emergency to fix it. This doesn’t necessarily mean you need to be glued to your phone and email, just that you need to have a reliable system in place for dealing with issues as they arise and for checking periodically that all appliances and other amenities are in tip top working order. 

  1. Know your portfolio of properties inside and out. 

Don’t miss out on opportunities to get the word out about your offerings by not being as familiar with them as you should. Know your amenities and the types of tenants they typically attract. Know the prices and what might make your property particularly attractive to any given potential renter. You never know when you may be presented with an unexpected opportunity to market.

  1. Build a trustworthy team. 

There will reach a point when you can no longer manage all your properties on your own. It’s important to understand when and how to delegate. When that time comes, screen employees carefully and make sure anyone you hire can share in your vision for customer service, growth, and responsibilities. 

  1. Retain knowledgeable counsel.

This goes hand-in-hand with #3. Make sure you leave the legal side of managing your business to a trained professional. It’s important to choose an attorney who has an extensive background in real estate law and therefore truly understands the challenges your business faces. 

Contact Atlas Law

If you are looking for an experienced real estate law firm, the Atlas Law team is here. We cover eviction and real estate cases across jurisdictions throughout the state of Florida. Are you ready to tackle your legal issues? Is it time to make moves to protect your business moving forward? We can help. Contact Atlas Law today!

When is It Legal to Raise the Rent?

As a landlord, there are going to be times when you need to raise your rental prices. Sometimes the increase is driven by market changes, while in other cases, maintenance costs and taxes have gone up, making it necessary to charge more when you want to keep the property in good shape and stay in business.

At Atlas Law, our goal is to help Florida landlords preserve the value of their property while maintaining good relationships with their best tenants. In this blog, we’ll answer the frequently asked question “When it is legal to raise the rent?” and show you how to avoid potential pitfalls when handling rent increases with tenants.

How often can Florida landlords raise rent? 

With residential tenancies, you can only raise the rent for fixed-term tenants once their lease expires. If they rent from you on a month-to-month or week-to-week basis, you can increase their rent at any time, as long as you give fair and reasonable notice, which is generally 15 days for monthly tenants and seven days for weekly.

If you’re a commercial landlord, your lease agreement may include a rent increase schedule, such as a yearly increase based on a percentage of the current rent. If the agreement is silent on the issue, a Florida rental law attorney can recommend the best way to manage your investment financially.

When can Florida landlords NOT raise rent?

This is an equally important question. In Florida, landlords are prohibited from raising rent as a discriminatory or retaliatory measure. For example, a landlord can’t impose an increase because a tenant has reported code violations or requested repairs, not can they raise rent based on characteristics like the following:

  • Sex or sexual orientation
  • Race, religion, color, ancestry or national origin
  • Age
  • Marital or parental status
  • Physical or mental handicaps (real or perceived)

The problem is that a landlord who imposes a rental increase in good faith may be accused of discrimination or retaliation by tenants who honestly believe it to be the case or who are trying to gain an advantage. If this happens to you, it is essential to seek legal advice to protect your rights and reputation as a landlord.

Additionally, if you are the owner of a manufactured home community governed by Chapter 723 of the Florida Statutes, you may only raise your rent based on limited circumstances, and only after providing your tenants with 90 days notice of the increase.  In the event that you are the owner of a mobile home park and wish to increase your rental rates, you should consult with a Florida attorney who has experience representing mobile home community owners.

Work with an Experienced Florida Landlord’s Rights Lawyer

Raising the rent is an important part of maintaining necessary cash flow for landlords. It can also be a contentious area where tenants are concerned. At Atlas Law, we will provide you with valid and accurate legal advice in all matters related to rent increases, including tenant objections. To schedule a consultation with one of our attorneys, call 813.241.8269.