When Your Rental Property Isn’t Safe

Florida Habitability Laws clearly delineate the responsibilities of landlords to provide safe, habitable living environments. The laws list what landlords are responsible for maintaining and repairing in their rental property. The laws also provide for tenant options when the landlord does not make repairs in a timely manner. 

The types of housing that are covered by the habitability laws are single-family and multi-family homes, as well as mobile home parks and condos (if a renter is occupying the unit). The habitability laws do not specifically address RV parks. Hotels/motels and fraternities/sororities/clubs are not included under the habitability laws. 

Landlord responsibilities

At the state level, the Florida habitability laws require landlords to provide and maintain the following:

  • Windows, doors, steps, foundations, building exterior, flooring, and other structural components in good condition
  • Working locks and keys
  • Clean and safe common areas
  • Roofs, walls, windows, etc. that are waterproofed and do not leak; screens for windows that are in good repair, repairing once annually
  • Hot and cold running water
  • Working HVAC equipment, working plumbing, working and safe electrical wiring/outlets/lighting, etc.
  • Working hygiene facilities, such as toilet and bathtub or shower
  • Working smoke detectors (for single-family units and duplexes)
  • Trash cans for trash pickup service (for multi-family units)
  • Pest control (rats, mice, roaches, ants, bedbugs, pests that destroy wood) for multi-family homes

Additional law requires apartment buildings and high rises to be fitted retroactively (meaning existing buildings as well as new construction) with sprinkler systems.

Local laws (city, county, or municipality) may require additional responsibilities, such as gas lines in an area that uses natural gas; safe stairs and railings; fire exits; carbon monoxide detectors; and wiring for a telephone jack. Additionally, local or zoning laws may expand some of the limited requirements above to other dwellings – for instance, smoke detectors may be required for multi-family dwellings, as well as those mentioned above. 

A landlord may not at any time waive the habitability requirements. For instance, a rental agreement may not include a provision that waives the tenant’s rights to any of the habitable requirements under the law. 

Tenant Options

When there is a problem that makes the rental property unsafe, the tenant must send the landlord written notice. The landlord has 20 days after the date of the notice to make the repairs. The tenant must give the landlord access to the premises, with 12 hours’ notice, unless it is an emergency or they both agree on a sooner time. 

If the repairs are not made in a timely manner, Florida law allows the tenant to withhold rent beginning 7 days after giving the landlord written notice of the problem. The tenant may also fix the problem and deduct the cost from the next month’s rent, as long as the tenant has sent written notice and given the landlord at least 7 days to make repairs. Tenants may also pursue legal action against landlords for any damage or harm that may have resulted from the problem. Tenants may also report landlords to the appropriate authorities that enforce building, zoning, and habitability codes and laws. 

Landlords are forbidden by law in Florida to retaliate in any way against a tenant who has taken any of the legal steps as defined above. 

Getting help

When a tenant is not getting satisfaction from a landlord who has allowed an unsafe condition to persist in a rental property, it can feel frustrating, lonely, and frightening. Most tenants don’t understand their legal options, especially if they or any family members have been injured by the unsafe conditions. You are not alone. As a personal injury lawyer, I am committed to defending individuals against those who deny them their rights. 

Besides the responsibilities outlined under the habitability law, landlords, just as any business, have a “duty of care,” which means they have a duty to provide safe conditions or safely-operating products. In a personal injury lawsuit against a landlord, the plaintiff (you) must prove:

  1. The landlord owed you a duty of care
  2. The landlord was negligent in that duty
  3. You suffered injury or damage that was caused by the breach of duty
  4. The injury or damage can be demonstrated legally

Do not feel limited by what is specifically listed in the habitability laws. For instance, while it may not be specifically defined under Florida habitability law that your walkway and steps be maintained and not be left crumbling or uneven, the landlord, in a broader sense, still has a duty of care to keep the premises safe. 

A landlord may argue that you caused the problem. For instance, the landlord may argue that your rat problem is due to your leaving food out on the counter all the time. However, it is highly unlikely he or she would be able to prove such an argument unless he or she had frequent access to your home – which may raise some questions of privacy. 

If your landlord is not fulfilling their duty to provide a safe environment for you and your family, and you have given them written notice and time to make repairs but have gotten no satisfaction, or if you or a loved one has been injured by unsafe conditions in your rental property, contact me at (954) 448-7288 from anywhere in Florida to see how I can help you.

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