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.  

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.

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.

5 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.  

  • 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)

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.

5. 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.  

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.

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.

Landlord/Tenant Law 101: The Covenant of Quiet Enjoyment

As a landlord, your are entitled to visiting your property – after all, you are the owner. But, on the other hand, are you truly allowed to step onto your rented property whenever you want regardless of whether or not the tenant is home?

Not respecting a tenant’s boundaries is a serious violation of an important Florida housing principle. This principle is called the Covenant of Quiet Enjoyment. Read on to learn what this covenant exactly stipulates, how it protects a tenant’s rights, and what a tenant can do if they feel those rights are being violated.

What is the Covenant of Quiet Enjoyment?

The Covenant of Quiet Enjoyment is a duty that Florida law imposes on landlords whether or not it is explicitly stated in the residential lease or contract. This covenant gives a tenant the right to enjoy his or her rented property without substantial interference from the landlord and without infringing on his or her privacy. Additionally, if a landlord wants to visit his or her property, he or she must give the tenant reasonable notice at least 12 hours in advance. Moreover, the tenant must give consent to the visit. However, a landlord is generally entitled to visiting the property in the following circumstances:

  • if the tenant unreasonably withholds the consent
  • in case of emergency
  • if the tenant is absent from the property for a period of time that is equal to one-half of the rental payment term

Violations of Quiet Enjoyment

The following list contains the most common examples of violations of the Covenant; while it is by no means complete, it may give you a good idea of what a violation of Quiet Enjoyment looks like:

  • Visiting too frequently
  • Entering the property without permission or notice
  • Refusing to give a tenant access to common areas or spaces on the residential premises
  • Preventing a tenant from having guests under reasonable circumstances

What You Can Do?

If you are dealing with situations that may constitute a violation of the Covenant of Quiet Enjoyment, it is usually best to contact a qualified lawyer to ask for advice on what the best way to proceed would be given the circumstances. Our attorneys at Atlas Law can provide you with some basic guidelines during a free phone consultation. We will also advise whether legal action against your tenant may be warranted and be happy to represent your interests in a dispute that may ensue.