By Eric Duenas, Litigation Attorney
Landlord/Tenant law can be confusing for both a landlord and a tenant trying to navigate through it on their own. Often questions arise as to where the landlord’s obligations end and where the tenant’s obligations begin, and when it comes to repairs it often leaves someone asking “Who pays for what?”
Florida Law, clearly states that in residential properties, the landlord at all times during the tenancy shall “comply with the requirements of applicable building, housing, and health codes.” When there are no applicable building, housing, or health codes, the landlord must “maintain the roofs, windows, doors, floors, steps, porches, exterior walls, foundations, and all other structural components in good repair and capable of resisting normal forces and loads and the plumbing in reasonable working condition.” Additionally, there is a stringent requirement for the annual repair of screens. One would think that the legislature would want the landlord to inspect something more significant annually, for example, the plumbing, electrical, or exterior walls. Rather, the regular maintenance of screens seems to be a more pressing issue.
Additionally, there are other things the landlord is also responsible for when renting residential properties, other than a single family home or a duplex. Unless otherwise agreed to in writing (always review your lease to determine what obligations may have changed), the landlord must provide for the extermination of rats, mice, roaches, ants, wood-destroying organisms, and bedbugs. If the tenant is required to vacate the premises for extermination, the landlord is not liable for damages but the landlord must abate the rent. Furthermore, if the tenant must vacate the premises, they are only required to do so for a maximum of 4 days after receiving 7 days’ notice. The landlord must also provide for: locks and keys, a clean and safe condition of common areas, garbage removal and outside receptacles, and functioning facilities for heat during winter, running water, and hot water.
As strange as it might seem, a landlord of a single family home or a duplex is not required, under the law, to provide their tenants with heat, running water, and hot water, or to exterminate pests on their property. Another point worth mentioning is that under Florida law, tenants in single-family, homes, duplexes, and apartments are not guaranteed air conditioning in the summer but those tenants fortunate enough to live in an apartment, for example, can count on having heat in the winter.
A common question that I’m often asked by both tenants and landlords is “Whose responsibility is it to fix the air conditioner in an apartment?” Typically, if the lease is silent on this issue, I advise that the landlord should repair it. It is their property and a happy tenant is a tenant that is more likely to renew their lease. It is simply a good business decision. Also, many leases require that the landlord maintain the appliances. I typically classify an air conditioner as an appliance.
Other items to consider are smoke detectors. Unless it is stated in writing, at the commencement of the tenancy of a single-family home or duplex, the landlord shall install working smoke detection devices. The law is also very specific as to what constitutes a “smoke detection device”— “an electrical or battery-operated device which detects visible or invisible particles of combustion and which is listed by Underwriters Laboratories, Inc., Factory Mutual Laboratories, Inc., or any other nationally recognized testing laboratory using nationally accepted testing standards.”
Landlords are only required to ensure that smoke detection devices are installed in single family homes and duplexes. What I find to be most troubling is that the law is silent as to whether or not working phone jacks are a requirement. This means that the law requires the landlord to provide the tenant with a means to determine whether or not there is a fire, but no real way to contact the fire department. In my opinion, this needs to be changed even in a society that is as connected as ours because of cell phones.
As a final thought, Florida law does not require a landlord to make any repairs to items damaged by the tenant, the tenant’s family, or a person in the property with the tenant’s consent. If you are renting a home, please be mindful as to who you allow on the property. The law also does not apply to mobile homes that are owned by a tenant renting a lot. When having an issue with a landlord or a tenant, it is always wise to review your lease. If your lease is silent as to an issue you are having or you do not understand a provision in your lease, you should contact an attorney that is experienced in this field to assist you. It is always recommended to have an attorney review your lease or any contracts prior to signing them.