By: David Delrahim
If you’re a landlord, it is almost inevitable that at some point a tenant will attempt to withhold rent and claim that you failed to maintain the premises. Although Florida law does permit tenants to withhold rent, it is only justified under certain circumstances and certain procedural steps must be taken.
What Duty Does a Landlord Have to Maintain the Premises?
Both landlords and tenants have a duty to maintain the premises, however, the landlord’s duty starts with turning over the premises to the tenant free from dangerous conditions. After the tenant moves in, the landlord has a continuing duty to (i) exercise reasonable care and (ii) repair dangerous and certain defective conditions once the tenant notifies the landlord of their existence.
When Can a Tenant Withhold Rent?
Withholding rent is only permitted if the tenant has followed all of the statutory procedural mechanisms and the landlord has materially breached the duty to maintain. A material breach usually refers to the habitability of the premises. If the tenant remains in possession of the premises or refuses to allow the landlord to make repairs, the court will likely find the premises was in whole or at least in part habitable or that the tenant waived the defective condition. If the tenant’s withholding of rent was not warranted under Florida law and the landlord prevails in the lawsuit, the landlord may be entitled to recover attorneys’ fees and costs.
While it may not make business sense to retain an attorney over minor tenant issues, once a tenant notifies you of issues with habitability, a major repair or personal injury, you should contact an attorney at the outset. Should you have any questions related to landlord/tenant issues, please contact Englander Fischer office at 727-898-7210 to see how one of our attorneys can assist you.