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Lawyers note rules for landlord, tenant

Residents get answers to their legal questions about housing issues at the People's Law School.

Can a lien be put on someone's condominium unit if he or she doesn't pay an assessment?

Can you take a tax deduction on a time-share unit?

If a person breaks a lease by moving out because of rats, can the landlord keep the security deposit?

Those were just some of the questions posed at Thursday's session of the People's Law School at the Clearwater campus of the Pinellas Technical Education Center that was attended by about 90 people. (The answers: yes; generally, no; and no.)

The People's Law School is in its 12th year and is one of several educational projects sponsored by the Clearwater Bar Association. The free school offers classes on several legal topics, including family law, bankruptcy and employment discrimination.

"We aren't trying to train citizens to be attorneys through this program," said Steven G. Nilsson, chairman of the local Bar's law-related education committee, "but we hope to help people become more familiar with various laws that that may affect them."

Clearwater resident Cheryl Pohley, attending the sessions for her second year, agreed: "Basically, all of this stuff affects everyone sooner or later. These sessions allow people to ask specific questions and many times, they get the answers right here."

Thursday's subject was laws governing condos, cooperatives, homeowners associations and landlord-tenant disputes.

"The condo board can definitely put a lien on the property of an owner," said Joseph Cianfrone, a Dunedin attorney who specializes in law pertaining to community associations. "If you don't pay, it's like not paying your mortgage. And not only can the individual be charged with the original assessment, but also interest, late fees and attorney's fees. It can even result in a foreclosure."

For the first hour of the two-hour session, Cianfrone fielded questions. Then, it was Largo attorney Margot Pequignot's turn to discuss landlord-tenant issues. They are among 20 attorneys and two judges who have volunteered to lead People's Law School sessions this year.

"In Florida, there are lots of real estate developments," said Cianfrone. "Chances are, most people are involved in some type of association."

Regarding the question on taking a deduction on a time share, Cianfrone answered: "All you own is one or two weeks of a condo. It's technically not real estate."

Michael Golia of Clearwater said he asked about liens because he is president of an Island Estates condominium. "But, I'm here for my own personal information . . . so I can do my job better."

Pequignot began her discussion of landlord-tenant law, by saying: "Florida law is very heavily weighted toward the tenant."

In answering the man trying to recoup his security deposit, she said: "If you moved out because of rats, the landlord had no right to keep your deposit. He was supposed to make your apartment livable. Having rats makes it uninhabitable."

On an eviction question, she explained: "A written eviction notice must be posted on the person's door, and it must apply to everyone who resides within. But, you cannot put a lock on that tenant's door, remove the door or cut off his or her electricity. If you don't follow the law exactly, you (the landlord) can be in a lot of trouble," she said.

Some of the questions posed to both attorneys couldn't be answered specifically, so the questioners were told to consult attorneys.

Virginia Youels of Dunedin, who is in her third year of attending the People's Law School, said: "You always pick up something you didn't know."

People's Law School

Free sessions of the People's Law School, sponsored by the Clearwater Bar Association, are scheduled from 7-9 p.m. on most Thursdays through May in the lecture hall of the Pinellas Technical Educational Center, Clearwater Campus, 6100 154th Ave. N, Clearwater. For a full schedule and topics, call 461-4869.