Advice For New Landlords

Landlords need to possess a wide range of skills. They are real estate investors, business people, and leaders. Running a rental property is a business, and it requires a significant amount of interaction with a multitude of people and personalities.

To protect you and your business, here are tips and advice to help.

It Starts Before It Begins

Before you have someone sit down to sign the first lease, understand the laws in your state. These laws will impact everything from how you implement safety precautions to how you handle security deposits. Here are some common questions you should know the answer to:

  • Is my lease legal?
  • Do I have all the permits and licenses required by my state?
  • Do my units and property meet all applicable codes?

Hiring a professional and experienced attorney who represents landlords is the quickest way to know the answers to these questions. Your attorney may point out laws or regulations that you may have overlooked. 

Another way to avoid future problems is by developing a robust screening process. There are ways to choose tenants who have good credit ratings and strong recommendations from previous landlords. However, laws govern how you screen your applicants. And they are meant to ensure an equitable and fair selection process. Your lawyer can go over your approach and offer advice as to how to achieve this.  

Have A Plan For Challenges 

Your property is a business. If you financed its purchase, you likely depend on rent to pay the mortgage and to provide you an income. Every business is going to have hurdles and challenges. Yours may come in the form of people failing to pay rent.

Landlords will have to face people who lost their jobs or are withholding payment as a bargaining chip. Regardless of the reasons why you should develop a plan to deal with delinquent payments.

People may be quick to think they will simply call their attorney. Because being a landlord is a business, you need to balance out the cost and timeliness of pursuing legal action. Of course, there are situations where this may be your only option, but it should be the last one. 

You may start by simply talking to the tenant (preferably in person than by text or email). Document everything. These are things for your attorney should it reach that level. In addition to payment plans, you can have a series of notices to inform your tenant of their obligation to pay. You may even cite the lease. 

Lastly, have these warnings—and potential consequences—spelled out in the lease. When it is drafted appropriately, a signed lease is going to be the safety net. 

Atlas Law

Protect yourself and your property by hiring an attorney who represents landlords and their rights. A signed lease is only as strong as the person who drafted. Choose a professional and experienced attorney to support and advise you. If you are a landlord in need of legal representation, contact Atlas Law to schedule your consultation. We proudly represent the entire state of Florida.  

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.

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.

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.

The 4 Essential Elements of a Residential Lease Agreement

A clear, well-written residential lease or rental agreement is often the key to a successful landlord-tenant relationship. A good agreement outlines the rights and duties of both parties which, in turn, provides them with a measure of security and stability. It also helps to avoid sticky misunderstandings and bitter legal disputes.

On the other hand, a poorly written agreement (for example, one that leaves out important details or allows for flexible interpretation of its terms) may actually jeopardize the interests of either the landlord or the tenant. In this blog, we outline the 4 essential elements of a well-written residential lease agreement.

Terms of Tenancy and Personal Details of the Tenants

A lease agreement should clearly specify the beginning and the end of the tenancy. According to Florida law, early lease termination is possible only under specific circumstances. Therefore, your agreement should state the start and finish dates of the lease term (which typically lasts one year).

During this time, the landlord cannot force the tenant to move out (provided there is no breach of the agreement, such as nonpayment) or raise the rent (unless the agreement specifically provides for such change). On the other hand, the tenant is obligated to pay the full rent for the period specified whether or not they continue to occupy the property for the whole term.

An agreement should also mention personal information for all tenants and the limits on the number of occupants. This will protect the rights of the landlord in two ways. First, the landlord may try to evict the tenant if they allow more people to move in without the landlord’s permission. Second, having the names of all the tenants in writing will allow the landlord to seek payment of rent from any one of the other tenants if any one of them is unable to do so.

Security Deposit

The demands for money for the potential damage caused by the tenant are likely to end in bitter, unproductive arguments unless clear terms regarding a security deposit are included in the agreement. The clause relating to such deposits should clearly state its amount (in Florida, this amount is not specified by the law but landlords usually charge the equivalent of one to two month’s rent), its purpose and use, as well as the time and means of returning it to the tenant.

Terms of Landlord’s Access

The landlord should respect the tenant’s right to privacy. That’s why Florida laws require the landlord to give the tenant reasonable notice before entering the property and stipulate that they must do so only at a reasonable time—typically between 7:30 am and 8:00 pm (except in the event of emergencies). Both the landlord and the tenant may wish to further specify the details of how the landlord will exercise its right to enter the property as well as any potential restrictions on this right.

Other Restrictions

The landlord may have other wishes with regard to the use of the property by the tenant. The landlord may specify whether or not the tenant is allowed to have pets or the extent of changes and modifications to the property, including additions, paint colors, and landscaping. The agreement should contain other specific clauses restricting certain kinds of behavior that could disturb other residents and neighbors. It should also explicitly prohibit any illegal activity.

In the Case of a Dispute, Contact the Landlord’s Advocate

Even with the best lease agreement in place, legal disputes between the landlord and the tenant may still arise. If you are facing a legal issue relating to a tenant’s violation of the lease agreement, or a similar one that concerns the landlord-tenant relationship, you should contact a dedicated Florida eviction attorney.

Attorney Brian Chase has extensive experience in dealing with landlord/tenant disputes and handles eviction cases across all jurisdictions and counties in Florida. Contact Atlas Law without delay and see what the best course of action would be in your case.


Landlords: Understand What Your Legal Responsibilities are in Florida

Being a landlord in Florida is not a light undertaking. Besides the responsibilities usually assigned to a landlord, state law adds some additional ones, some of which are more obvious than others. To make matters more confusing, the responsibilities vary depending upon the type of rental involved. Here’s a short guide to help you figure it all out.

For all types of housing, be it single-family home, duplex, or apartment, there are certain rules that all landlords must follow:

  • Maintain the property. This means in accordance with the current building, housing, and health codes. In the event there are no applicable codes, at a bare minimum, the plumbing must be kept in reasonably good working condition. The structural components of the dwelling including the roof, floors, windows, foundations, exterior walls, steps, and porches must be maintained in good repair and be capable of withstanding the usual loads and forces.
  • Put the agreement in writing. Oral rental agreements are allowed, but they can be a recipe for litigation later on as two parties in dispute will inevitably have two different versions of the terms. The essential elements of an agreement include:
    • The price
    • The dates of occupancy and when the lease terminates
    • Deposits and how they will be collected and returned
    • How the lease may be terminated early
    • Prohibited conduct
  • Put notices regarding the lease in writing. This applies even if the parties have an oral rental agreement. Also another compelling reason to put the original agreement in writing.
  • Follow the rules on deposit and rents. Upon the tenant moving out, you as a landlord have the right to keep the deposit to cover the costs of damage to the unit. However, to legally take advantage of this option, the landlord must have given written notice to the tenant of the amount of the deposit that will be retained and why, within 30 days of the date the tenant moves out. The landlord must send the letter via certified mail to the last known address of the tenant. If this notice is not sent within the 30 days as required, the landlord forfeits any rights to the deposit. Similarly, if the landlord decides not to keep the deposit to cover damages, the landlord must return the deposit to the tenant within 15 days.
  • Know your entry rights. As landlord, you can enter the property at any time for the preservation or protection of the property. At all other times, however, the landlord must give reasonable notice to the tenant. This means 12 hours prior to the proposed entry—and the time proposed should be reasonable—during the hours from 7:30am to 8pm. The landlord can also enter the property upon consent of the tenant or if the tenant has been gone for at least one and a half rental periods unless the tenant is fully paid and has notified the landlord of their intended absence.

Apartments require additional responsibilities on the part of the landlord. Specifically, the landlord must provide for extermination of vermin, insects, and termites. The landlord must maintain the locks and keys, keep common areas safe and clean, provide garbage disposal receptacles, provide working plumbing (including running and hot water), and heat in winter.

One of the first things to know as a landlord is that the maze of regulations is not something you need to attack alone. Contact Brian Chase today, an attorney to landlords throughout the entire state of Florida. Atlas Law can advise you on your rights and responsibilities. Spare yourself from headaches and call our firm today.