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.