Understanding Emotional Support Animal Laws and Guidelines

As a landlord, it’s important to take steps to protect your own property and preserve your long-term financial stability. For some, this could include restricting the type, number, breed, and size of animals permitted on your properties.

Many landlords ban pets entirely because of the potential liability issues. Liability arises when the animal cause damage to the property, injures another tenant or exhibits behavioral issues that put others at risk. However, regardless of your restrictions, it’s common for tenants to claim an animal is an Emotional Support Animal (commonly referred to as an ESA). When done legally, landlords are left with few options to prevent the animal from living and staying on the premises. However, many tenants abuse this angle and attempt to go through illegitimate channels to “register” an animal to get around restrictions, fees, and insurance costs.

It’s important to prepare for these conversations because tens of thousands of animals have been “registered” on illegitimate websites that provide no real valid documentation of an emotional support animal. To understand how those conversations will go, it’s important to first understand how the law applies when someone LEGALLY registered their animal.

Legitimate emotional support animal registrations

Landlords are limited when a tenant provides valid proof of an emotional support registration. Tenants are protected by the Fair Housing Act which prevents discrimination against tenants for a disability. The Fair Housing Act provides this protection for people who genuinely have a diagnosis that is stabilized, improved, or assisted in some fashion by the presence of an animal. These registrations can only come from qualified medical professionals and do not need to provide a specific diagnosis and instead can just give general information confirming the need for one.

Animals do NOT need to have any sort of official training to qualify as emotional support animals. This means the registered animal very well may exceed any weight restrictions you’ve implemented or even be a breed you’ve banned from your property due to insurance reasons.

When a tenant legally registers their animal you are not permitted to raise rent, charge additional fees, or attempt to evict the tenant. The only time a landlord may take action against a tenant is when a registered animal causes damage to the property, injured another tenant, or exhibits threatening behaviors that place risk upon other tenants.

Illegitimate emotional support animal registrations

Where things get tricky is when a tenant claims they’ve registered their animal but have actually just paid any number of websites to send them a fake letter. These are growing in popularity, with some services saying they’ve received more than 200,000 requests in a single year.

Unfortunately, the law isn’t cracking down on these fake registrations, leaving it up to landlords to sift through what’s real and what’s fake. What’s important to understand is you have no duty to expose your property or your other tenants to risk by an animal that’s not legally registered as an emotional support animal. 

These fake registrations expose you to unnecessary liability, but it’s a tricky situation to navigate. Your best bet is to contact your attorney before approaching the tenant to enforce the terms of the lease. Your attorney should be able to review any claimed documentation of the ESA registration and confirm whether or not it follows the legal standards in place.

At Atlas Law, we know your rights and will always be a landlord’s advocate. If you’re ever confronted with what you believe to be a fake registration or need help exploring your options, contact our team.

Protecting Your Livelihood During the Cancel Rent and Rent Control Movements

The conversations around canceling or controlling rent have been prevalent both locally and nationally as people and politicians look for ways to alleviate some of the financial stress brought on by the pandemic. Unfortunately, there are many people looking to take advantage of the situation by skirting eviction laws and hoping the government will bail them out of the significant debt they owe to landlords.

At the end of the day, landlords are people doing a job just like everybody else, and they have a right to be paid for their services just like everybody else. But, as a landlord, what can you do about these movements?

Understand what rent control and rent cancellation is

Rent control and cancellation are sometimes used interchangeably, but there’s a sizable difference in how each works.

With rent control, the government would play a large role in controlling the prices of rental properties. This would mean limiting the amount rent can go up year over year along with likely controlling the price for certain amenities and square footage. In Tampa Bay, lawmakers attempted but failed to execute rent control through a “loophole” that allows lawmakers to implement rent control ONLY during a housing crisis. The legal requirements to prove a housing crisis exists and necessitates rent control are significant.

For rent cancellation, the idea is to forgive all overdue rent tenants incurred over the course of the last several years. This concept would cost landlords a massive amount of money and put their livelihoods at risk. Some landlords, especially those with fewer properties, would likely never recover.

Stay informed

You should stay connected to the latest conversations. Both discussions are evolving at both the local and federal levels. This doesn’t mean you have to sit down and watch the news every night or check online news stories every day, but you should at least be aware of what the latest information is.

Right now, multiple efforts for rent control in Florida have failed. Some of those conversations have shifted more towards rental assistance which should benefit both the tenant and the landlord.

Get involved

There are several ways to get involved and protect your livelihood against the movements. You can attend and engage with politicians are local meetings when available to the public. This is a way to make sure your voice isn’t completely drowned out but a loud section of the public pushing for rent cancellation and control.

Another option could be to join industry and lobbying groups to make sure there is more prevalent messaging surrounding landlord rights and the need for tenants to pay what is owed. These groups are comprised of industry professionals who know how to craft timely and useful campaigns to ensure rent and other payments are never put on the backburner by politicians.

Be reasonable

This one is important. While these movements do put landlords at risk, there is a reason so many people are pushing for them. Costs across the board are up right now and many people are drowning in debt, often of no fault of their own. Be willing to help your tenants and refer them to programs that can help them overcome these debts, such as the “Our Florida” program.

While there are some people with bad intentions trying to take advantage of these movements, there are also people who genuinely need your help. It’s imperative that we all do what we can to support those in need. If you’re able to provide support to those people, the rent control and cancellation movements are far less likely to gain steam. If you refuse to help and instead kick or lock people out of their homes, you’re only going to add fuel to the fire.

You should always be prepared for these conversations. The best way to make sure you don’t put yourself in any compromising situations is to work with an attorney. At Atlas Law, we know real estate in Florida and we advocate day in and day out for landlords. Contact us today.

What To Do When a “Tester” Calls Your Offices

We’re hearing from clients about a troubling trend in Florida. So-called “testers” are contacting various housing offices, trying to take advantage of your hard work by catching you up in a line of questioning and threatening to turn the short conversation into an expensive lawsuit.  While some of these testers are government agencies, the majority are individuals who are encouraged by attorneys to contact housing providers.  These individuals and attorneys can be more interested in turning a profit than policing the housing industry.  

A tester will call a housing provider posing as a potential renter.  The tester will ask specific questions about whether or not felons qualify for housing, whether the housing provider accepts Section 8 housing vouchers, as well as similar scenarios. Because of the conflicting political landscape between state and local governments, numerous local jurisdictions are passing ordinances that directly affect your answers to these questions.  These local ordinances are often passed without much notice, and you might be completely unaware of their existence.  The caller knows this, and an incorrect answer can result in you facing a demand for attorneys’ fees. We want to prepare you for those calls and make sure you don’t get caught up in these unfortunate situations.

Don’t provide specific responses

Your best defense is to familiarize yourself with your legal requirements at the local, state, and Federal level.  If you are uncertain about your legal obligations, you should not provide a definite response. If someone calls your offices asking about whether you accept Section 8 vouchers or felons and you’re unsure of the answer, just tell them that.

Your best response is to say something like “I am unable to answer questions about your specific situation without viewing your application. We can better assess your qualifications after you submit one,” and then provide them with the application.

This protects you if the caller is trying to extract an incorrect answer out of your leasing staff. At the end of the day, your best defense is to not provide specific responses that could run afoul of local, state or Federal laws.  You should encourage anyone who is attempting to qualify for residency to use the application process – that is why you spent time and effort putting the application form, credit checks, and background checks together.  

Take advantage of your own application process

When these testers call, many are simply looking for a clear-cut violation that results in an immediate demand for attorneys’ fees. This means they’re not going to want to put any money in before trying to get money out of you, and they usually don’t want to put in a lot of effort.

So, when you use the suggested talking points provided above, mention to them that you have an application process that includes an application fee. Generally, testers are not going to be willing to contact housing providers and pay numerous application fees to see whether or not you decline their qualifications. Additionally, many testers won’t follow up by filling out an application form so that you can run a proper background or financial check.  

It’s important to be flexible and consider waiving your application fees whenever reasonable, but you should be wary if you’re unsure of a caller’s motives. Don’t commit to waiving the fee if you’re uncomfortable with the situation and there is no legal basis for waiving the application fee.

Don’t fall for threats

Most of these testers have no intention of ever going through the legal process. If they do catch you up and start to threaten a lawsuit you should end the call and contact your lawyer. You may never hear from them again after you hang up, but your best bet is to make sure your attorney is aware of the situation and prepared to defend your rights.

At Atlas Law, we are a landlord’s advocate. We will stand by your right to run your business unbothered by those trying to make a quick dollar at your expense. We operate in every county in Florida. Contact us today to protect your hard work.

Rent Control Could Be Coming to Florida

The real estate market in Florida is showing no signs of slowing down. Cities across the state ranked among the hottest markets in 2021, and Zillow projects Tampa Bay and Jacksonville to be the two hottest markets in the country in 2022.

A hot real estate market means good things for landlords looking to fill your rental properties, but it’s also going to add more fuel to the conversation surrounding rent control. Rent control has long been viewed as a tool for large cities like New York City, San Francisco, Oakland, and Washington, D.C., but we’re seeing more municipalities here in Florida consider the move.

So, what do you need to know about the conversation?

State law specifically addresses rent control

Lawmakers in certain parts of the state are questioning whether the state law allows for counties or cities to implement rent control. Chapter 125 Section 0103 of Florida lays out the very limited situations in which municipalities may implement rent control, but there remains debate over the process to prove the need for rent control and how to enforce it.

All of the following circumstances must be met to enact rent control:

  • Officials prove there is a “housing emergency so grave as to constitute a serious menace to the general public”
  • Officials prove rent control is the only means to eliminate the housing emergency
  • Proper public hearing laws are followed
  • Voters in the municipality (whether it be city or county) vote on the measure

The requirements to enact rent control are strict, and any such measure would only be active for 12 months before lawmakers would have to start the process all over again, proving every year the measure is necessary and the only means to ending a housing crisis.

Some cities are already discussing rent control

We’re seeing lawmakers push and even vote on rent control measures. In Tampa Bay, a vote recently failed which would establish a “tenant bill of rights,” but lawmakers say the conversation about rent control is likely to continue. In St. Petersburg, city attorneys concluded the legal pathway to rent control is too narrow and the execution of such a measure would be too expensive.

You can see these conversations are happening. Right now, lawmakers seem to be hesitant on pulling the trigger because the only legal option is to declare a housing state of emergency which carries a large burden of proof. The news is mostly good for landlords hoping to maintain current rent prices or even raise prices in high-demand areas. But you should understand these conversations are happening and are likely to continue. Some state lawmakers want to repeal the current measure and make it easier to impose rent control in Florida.

Prepare to defend your rights

State law seems pretty straightforward on rent control and the very limited avenues municipalities have to enact it. However, some lawmakers believe there are loopholes in current state law.

This is an ongoing conversation, so you should know your rights and be prepared to defend them. At Atlas Law, we are the landlord’s advocate. We have extensive experience fighting for landlords and are ready to fight against rent control. Contact us today! We are your partner in property management.

When Can A Landlord Enter Their Rental Properties?

 

 

 

 


Your home is a place where you should expect to enjoy a reasonable degree of privacy. This holds true whether you own or rent the home, although with rental properties, there will be times when you as a landlord need to access the premises. 

Does this mean that you can show up unannounced or on a frequent basis? Not at all. Florida tenants have a right to privacy, but they must still provide access to their landlords when necessary. In this blog, we explain when landlords can enter their rental properties and rules they must observe before and after their visit.

You Must Provide Notice

Florida Statute 83.53 states that a landlord must notify the tenant at least 12 hours in advance of their intention to enter the rental unit. Once the notice has been issued, they can come into the property between the hours of 7:30 a.m. and 8:00 p.m. 

As long as you provide proper notice beforehand, your tenant cannot refuse to let you into the rental unit. They can’t try to claim they never received the notice or unreasonably deny access after they are aware of your intent to enter.

Emergency Situations

You may not have to give notice if an emergency situation arises. Under Florida landlord-tenant law, you may be able to access the rental unit within less than 12 hours under circumstances like the following:

  • There has been an emergency, such as a fire, hurricane, or flood.
  • The tenant is refusing you entry after receiving reasonable notice. 
  • You have reason to believe that the tenant has abandoned the property. The law permits you to enter the unit without notice if the tenant has not been present for over 15 days (with monthly leases) or a period of time equal to half of the rental period. 

Unfortunately, tenants have been known to file complaints and even claims against Florida landlords who act on their access rights, creating a difficult situation that all too often goes against the landlord. This is where working with an experienced attorney can help.

Contact Atlas Law for Efficient and Experienced Legal Help

When a tenant denies you access to your property or otherwise violates your rights as a landlord, you need a Florida lawyer with a long history of experience in Florida landlord-tenant law. To learn more and get legal representation you can trust, call Atlas Law at (813) 241-8269.

Landlords’ Rights In Florida

 

 

 

 

 

 

If you are a new landlord or a longtime landlord who has never dealt with tenant law disputes, you may be unsure how to handle one when they arise. Understanding your rights as a landlord in Florida is essential if you hope to protect yourself and your family. Here are some of the most important landlords’ rights you should be sure to take note of. 

Florida Rent Laws

Under Florida law, there are many different rent-related laws you will need to be aware of as a landlord. This will include rules for the steps you can take when your tenant fails to pay rent, how much time they have to pay overdue rent before you have the right to evict them, and more. Failure to adhere to these laws could result in considerable financial costs. 

Security Deposit Rules in Florida 

As a landlord, you will want to be sure to protect yourself financially, as tenants often wind up in situations where they cannot pay rent or damage the property. For this reason, many landlords require a security deposit before a tenant can move in. 

Florida law does not place a limit on how much you can charge for your security deposit. But you will be required to return security deposits to tenants within one month of them moving out. 

Landlord’s Right to Enter Their Florida Rental Property 

One of the most significant disputes Florida landlords and tenants have is when the landlord has the authority to enter the rental property. But the law is clear: landlords have the right to access their rental property after giving their tenants a minimum of twelve hours’ notice. 

Landlords are also prohibited under the law from attempting to enter the property in retaliation after a tenant has made reasonable complaints regarding unsafe living conditions on the property. If you have questions about whether your rights have been violated or how to take action to ensure that you do not violate your tenant’s rights, contact our office.

Florida Lease Termination and Eviction Laws 

Some of the most complex landlord/tenant laws surround lease termination and tenant eviction. Under the law, landlords have the right to terminate a tenancy whenever the stipulations allow for such in an existing lease agreement when the tenant has already violated the terms of the lease on multiple occasions. A good example could be a tenant who intentionally destroyed the property in some way. 

Landlords must give their tenant’s a minimum amount of time to vacate the premises and pay their rent in full before an eviction can be filed. You must further discuss the costs of eviction with your attorney to best decide how to proceed if you are considering lease termination or eviction as a landlord. 

When your landlords’ rights have been violated, or you are dealing with a tenant dispute, you need an experienced attorney advocating for you. Call Atlas Law at (813) 241-8269 to get the legal guidance and support you need. Or fill out our online contact form, and we’ll contact you to learn more about your case.

Clauses To Include In A Lease Agreement

Clauses are the provisions in a contract. In other words, who is supplying whom with what? In terms of a rental agreement, they could outline who will be receiving the money, how repairs will happen, and the consequences of failing to meet an obligation. These can also extend out to the rights and responsibilities of the tenant or landlord.

Here are some of the clauses you should strongly consider having in your lease agreement. And it is always advisable to have legal counsel create, draft, or edit these on your behalf. You want to ensure that each clause or provision is enforceable and legal. 

Break Down The Facts

At the heart of your lease agreement is who the deal pertains to. Not only should you include your name and the renter’s name, but you need to establish the role of each. Don’t be hesitant to be overly specific. Obvious things that may get overlooked are the simple things, such as the address of the property. 

If it isn’t in the lease, it almost doesn’t exist. That’s why you include the rent, when it is due, when it is late, and the amount of notice you require if they plan on moving at the lease.

Safety Net

As a landlord, your lease is a means of protection. One of the biggest concerns you may have as a landlord is the tenant not paying—and rightfully so. If you are providing a habitable property for someone to live in, you deserve to be compensated for that. That is something that could and should end up moving towards eviction. Other issues that may be equally justifiable are if the property is being abused or criminal behavior is taking place there. 

Maintenance 

As a landlord, you are responsible for maintaining the property. When deciding what to put in your lease, consider adding a clause about how you expect to be notified when something needs to be repaired. Specific issues will be more time-sensitive, such as losing heat, air conditioning, or a critical appliance such as a refrigerator. 

Because preventive maintenance is cost-effective, you may decide to define specified intervals when you can enter the premises to conduct these. In addition, there should be an explanation as to how the tenant will permit you to do so. 

Atlas Law 

The amount of clauses that need to be included in your lease is extensive. Contact Atlas Law to schedule a consultation if you are a landlord, have further questions, or need professional legal counsel. We are a one-stop-shop for evictions, and we cover the entire state of Florida. 

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 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.