Landlord won’t make repairs? A guide to Florida renters’ rights.

One wrong move could lead to an eviction. Here’s what legal experts recommend.
Both renters and property owners are expected to keep a home in good shape.
Both renters and property owners are expected to keep a home in good shape. [ DIRK SHADD | Times ]
Published Sept. 13|Updated Sept. 16

As a renter, when something breaks, you are at the mercy of your landlord to fix it.

So what do you do if the person you rent from isn’t taking care of the property? There are several steps tenants can take to try to resolve the situation. But before you do anything rash — like moving out or refusing to pay rent — it’s important to understand how landlord-tenant laws work in Florida.

What is the landlord required to fix?

Both renters and property owners are expected to keep a home in good shape.

For tenants that means:

  • Following any building, housing or health codes
  • Keeping the unit clean and sanitary
  • Using plumbing, electrical, heating and other appliances and facilities in a reasonable manner
  • Not destroying, defacing or damaging, impairing or removing any part of the property
  • Conducting yourself in a way that does not disturb the peace
  • Allowing your landlord to enter the unit for inspections or repairs

For landlords that means:

  • Following any building, housing or health codes
  • Maintaining the roof, stairs, windows, floors, exterior walls and other structural components
  • Exterminating rats, mice, roaches, ants, termites and bedbugs
  • Providing running water, hot water and heat in the winter
  • Installing working smoke detectors
  • Keeping common areas safe and clean
  • Securing the home with locks and keys
  • Taking care of garbage removal

It’s worth noting that landlords are not required to provide air conditioning under Florida’s landlord-tenant laws.

What to do if something needs fixing

You should make a good-faith effort to communicate with your landlord and reach a solution before getting the courts involved, said Tom DiFiore, an attorney with Bay Area Legal Services.

Start by filing a work order and documenting it in writing. Keep track of any correspondence between you and the landlord. Take plenty of pictures and videos that show the problems you’re facing.

If your landlord doesn’t respond, contact your local code enforcement agency or building department and ask them to inspect the property. If you’re a Section 8 voucher recipient, you can also try your local housing authority. Ask for a copy of the inspection.

In some cases, your landlord might let you make repairs yourself and deduct the cost from your rent. If you go this route, make sure you and your landlord have an official agreement signed in writing, or they could try to go back on their word.

How to file a notice with the landlord

If your landlord still isn’t cooperating, you have two options. You can try to cancel your lease and move somewhere else or you can stay and try to force them to make repairs.

In the most severe cases, you may choose to send a notice of noncompliance. This is a letter warning the landlord that you believe they have violated the lease and you intend to take action.

Here is a template you can use with language provided by Bay Area Legal Services.

You’ll need to prove that your landlord has received the letter. If you send it by mail, send it “certified mail, return receipt requested” so you are notified once it’s delivered. If you deliver it in person, bring a witness with you.

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Your landlord must receive the letter at least seven days before rent is due. You must be current on your rent prior to sending the letter.

This strategy should not be taken lightly as it could escalate the situation and lead your landlord to file for eviction.

Even if you win your case, the public record will still show that an eviction has been filed against you. This can make it difficult to find an apartment in the future.

“Sometimes this may put tenants in a worse position,” DiFiore said. “You have to be strategic and ask yourself, ‘is this really worth it?’”

If your lease is about to end or the problems are manageable, unfortunately sometimes the best option is to do nothing.

Withholding rent

Once you’ve filed the notice, your landlord has seven days to show they’ve made a reasonable effort to resolve maintenance issues. This does not mean that your landlord has to have everything fixed by then, they just have to show that they’re trying, DiFiore said. This will be something that the judge considers if your case ends up in court.

The judge also has broad discretion to decide whether the things that need fixing rise to the level of “material noncompliance.” This is usually reserved for major problems, like broken appliances, plumbing issues and faulty electricity. Smaller cosmetic problems like missing tiles, chipped paint or broken cabinetry typically would not qualify.

If there’s no progress made by the time your monthly payment is due, then you can decide whether to withhold rent. Keep in mind, you will be expected to pay once repairs are made, so make sure you have the money on hand.

Terminating your lease

If you’ve filed a notice to terminate your lease, in theory you should be able to move out within seven days if repairs have not been made.

Still, your landlord could take you to court and argue that you broke your lease and you owe termination fees. This could impact your credit rating and deter other landlords from renting to you.

What to do if your landlord tries to evict you

Refusing to pay rent will likely trigger an eviction even if you’ve properly filed a seven-day notice of noncompliance.

First, you’ll receive an eviction notice. This is a warning that states you have three business days to pay rent or vacate the premises before your landlord files for eviction.

If the landlord files the eviction, you’ll receive a summons from the sheriff’s department.

From there, you have five business days to respond or move out. The summons should include instructions on how and where to submit a response. Jacksonville Area Legal Aid has an online tool to help you write an answer.

You should also file a motion to determine rent. In this letter, you’ll want to describe how the maintenance issues you’ve faced have impacted the material value of the unit. Be sure to attach any evidence as well.

You are expected to pay whatever rent your landlord says you owe into the court registry before you are granted a hearing. That money will be held by the court until the case is decided.

If you do not pay, the motion to determine rent may convince the judge to grant you a case anyway. But more often than not, the case will default in favor of the landlord.

When you arrive at the hearing, come prepared with physical copies of any evidence you have. This includes photos, inspection reports and written correspondence between you and the landlord.

Whom to ask for help

Reporting issues to local authorities can sometimes compel landlords to make repairs. Here are some agencies you should consider reaching out to:

Hillsborough County Code Enforcement

  • 813-274-6600

Pasco County Code Compliance

  • 727-847-2411

Pinellas County Code Enforcement

  • 727-464-4761

Clearwater Code Compliance

  • 727-562-4720

St. Petersburg Codes Compliance

  • 727-893-7373

If you are at risk of eviction or have a potential claim against your landlord, it’s a good idea to seek out legal advice. Tenants who represent themselves are far more vulnerable than those who have an attorney, DiFiore said. For those who cannot afford a lawyer, here are several groups in the Tampa Bay region that may be able to help at no or low cost:

Bay Area Legal Services

  • 800-625-2257

Community Law Program

  • 727-582-7480

Gulf Coast Legal Services

  • 800-230-5920

Hillsborough County Bar Association’s Lawyer Referral & Information Service

  • 813-221-7780