Is Your Landlord an Ass? What can you do?

If you’re a lucky renter, you have a landlord that does more than just cash checks. If you’re lucky, he or she also maintains the property and addresses your concerns in a timely manner. He doesn’t make threats and he doesn’t make accusations (assuming, of course, said problems aren’t due to something stupid you did). However, unfortunately, many renters aren’t so lucky and are stuck with lazy landlords, negligent landlords, or just outright slum lords.

So, your landlord fails to fix the stairs to your unit and your air conditioning hasn’t worked for a week. You’ve been to the office, and your landlord’s agents tell you ‘we’ll fix it, we’ll fix it.” Sounds good, right? Well, another week goes by and you’re still suffering in the heat – that is, assuming you’ve been able to make it past the stairs of doom. What now? Of course, you go back and demand to know when the fixes are coming. Again, ‘we’ll fix it!’ But, this time you’re asked what you did to cause the damage. RED FLAG! Assuming you didn’t do anything to the stairs or the air conditioning, you need to make sure you defend yourself. It is at this point that many renters throw up their hands and just want out of the lease. Well, unfortunately, it isn’t that simple. If you just throw the keys back at them and move out, you’re facing damages… and those damages could be rent for the rest of your lease term and then some. In this situation, your lease and the Florida Statutes control.

Your first step should be to decide what you want. If the problems are fixed, are you good? Or do you just want out no matter what? Well, if you just want things fixed, you should look to your lease to be sure you aren’t responsible for fixing the issue. Now, in the fact pattern we’re working with, you’re probably heading to the next step – Notice of Intent to Withhold Rent. This notice should be sent seven days prior to withholding said rent. Basically, this tells your landlord fix it or I’m holding rent until you do. Caveat – you have to be prepared to pay rent in full once things are fixed. If things get fixed, pay rent. If things don’t get fixed, you give notice of your intent to terminate the lease.

Now, you may find it helpful to have an attorney help you with the process, and, frankly, we’d advise that. In fact, you should probably go visit an attorney the first time the problems aren’t fixed, but definitely before deciding to just break your lease. If you decide you just want out, you should speak with an attorney. If the property has been fixed up and it is livable, then breaking the lease is breaking a contract and the landlord is entitled to damages. Your lease may have a termination provision that says what the buy-out would be. However, if it is silent, from a practical perspective, you (or your attorney) should negotiate a buy-out and work out the terms of the termination. And get it in writing! That way, if the landlord decides to pull an ‘aha,’ you have an agreement that will protect you in court should he try to double dip and sue you despite the buy-out agreement. This is also the importance of the notices mentioned above. Despite the fact they are necessary by the law, they are also going to protect you. While there’s much you can do without an attorney, we would highly advise at least consulting with an attorney before acting. Always keep in mind…rash decisions tend to lead to pricey damages.