Lease contracts try to anticipate all potential disagreements between landlord and tenants. State landlord-tenant laws try to provide a framework for regulating every aspect of the lease and the landlord-tenant relationship. The result is a complicated patchwork of laws that landlords need to understand.
Here, we will cover Florida’s landlord-tenant laws, including the latest changes to these laws.
Deposit, Rental Agreement, Rent Control in Florida
There isn’t a limit on the amount of the security deposit in Florida. As a matter of practice, it’s equal to one to two months’ rent.
Florida law allows oral or written Florida rental agreements. As a practical matter, rental agreements should always be in writing to protect the interests of the landlord and the tenant.
It surprises many landlords that there is rent control in Florida. Under §§166.043(2)&(3), municipalities can enact price controls on rent in situations where a municipality declares a housing emergency. In November 2022, voters in Orlando’s county approved a rent control measure by a 20-point margin. The Florida legislature and governor reacted quickly to the threat of rent control in Florida. On March 29, 2023, the Florida governor signed a new law repealing §§166.043(2)&(3). The new law goes into effect on July 1, 2023.
Security Deposit Laws in Florida
Security deposits are the tenant’s money held by the landlord to cover unforeseen costs. The most common reason for a full security deposit not to be returned is damage to the rental unit beyond what’s considered normal wear and tear.
§83.43(12) of the Florida Code defines security deposit as:
“… moneys held by the landlord as security for the performance of the rental agreement, including, but not limited to, monetary damage to the landlord caused by the tenant’s breach of lease prior to the expiration thereof.”
§83.43(11) defines deposit money as:
“… any money held by the landlord on behalf of the tenant, including, but not limited to, damage deposits, security deposits, advance rent deposit, pet deposit, or any contractual deposit agreed to between landlord and tenant either in writing or orally.”
An advance rent deposit is to ensure the rent is available for payment. Most leases state that a security deposit cannot substitute for rent. However, Florida landlords can deduct unpaid rent from the security deposit. Landlords can also deduct unpaid utilities if the lease provides for this.
Damage deposits and pet deposits are types of security deposit. The most contested points where landlords keep security deposits is from claims for cleaning fees and damages. These claims are only valid if the damage or necessary cleaning is for conditions beyond the normal wear and tear on the rental unit.
Failure to clean the baseboards the day before moving out probably won’t be enough to withhold part of the security deposit. A hole in the wall or pet stains requiring new carpet probably is enough to justify withholding part or all of the security deposit.
Florida landlords must send a written notice to the tenant within 30 days after receipt of a security deposit or advanced rent payment. The notice must contain the disclosure described in §83.49(2)(d). This notice must state:
- The financial institution where the landlord deposited the security deposit or advanced rent or if the landlord posted a surety bond
- Whether the tenant will receive interest on the deposit
Upon a tenant vacating a rental unit, the landlord has 15 days to return the security deposit unless they intend to keep all or part of the deposit. If a landlord intends to keep all or part a deposit, they must, within 30 days, send via certified mail to the tenant’s last known mailing address, the reasons they are claiming part or all the deposited money. This notice must be in the form provided at §83.49(3)(a). If a landlord fails to provide this notice within 30 days, as required by law, they must return the full amount of the deposited funds.
Upon receipt of this notice, the tenant has 15 days to send a written objection. If the tenant doesn’t send their written objection, the landlord is free to keep the amount of the deposited money they have claimed. But the landlord must return to the tenant any balance remaining after the landlord’s claims.
If either the landlord or the tenant sues to recover their interest in the deposited money, the losing party must compensate the prevailing party for its court costs and reasonable attorney’s fees.Tenants may also file a complaint with the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services (FDACS) when a landlord fails to return their deposited money.
As complex as security deposits are, they’re only one small part of the rental agreement. That’s why most leases are several pages long.
Rental Agreement Laws in Florida
The rental agreement is the lease. Leases are multi-page contracts explaining what’s expected of the landlord and the tenant. Common provisions in rental agreements include:
- The amount and due date for rent
- The calculation of any late fees
- Information about the security deposit
- Pets policy
- Landlord’s right of access
- The term of the lease
- Landlord’s responsibility for repair and maintenance
- Tenant’s responsibilities
Whenever a Florida law conflicts with a lease provision, Florida law controls. One common issue where leases will conflict with law is the notice required before a landlord can access the tenant’s dwelling. Many Florida leases show 12 hours’ notice before the landlord can enter the rental unit. Until 2022, these leases complied with Florida law.
Additional Responsibilities and Rights:
- Emergency Access: Florida law allows landlords to enter a rental unit without the standard 24-hour notice in case of emergencies. This provision ensures that landlords can promptly address situations that could pose an immediate risk to the property or its inhabitants.
- Security Deposit Handling: Florida law specifies how landlords must handle security deposits, including holding them in a separate non-interest-bearing account or posting a surety bond and notifying tenants in writing within 30 days of receipt of the deposit about how it is being held.
- Discrimination Prohibitions: Under the Florida Fair Housing Act, landlords cannot discriminate against tenants based on race, color, national origin, religion, sex, familial status, or disability. This law aligns with federal fair housing laws and underscores the importance of equality in housing practices.
- Termination and Eviction: Specific procedures must be followed for lease termination and eviction, including providing proper notices. For example, for non-payment of rent, landlords must give a three-day notice (excluding weekends and legal holidays) to pay the rent or vacate the premises before eviction proceedings can start.
In 2022, the legislature amended §83.53(2) of the Florida code to require at least 24 hours’ notice before accessing a tenant’s dwelling. That means any provision in a lease for 12 hours’ notice is no longer valid.
If a landlord fails to comply with a lease provision or with Florida law, under §83.60(1)(b), a tenant may send their landlord written notice of their intent to withhold rent. Upon receipt of the notice, the landlord has seven days to come into compliance before the tenant may withhold rent.
The landlord can still send the notices necessary for eviction for non-payment after receipt of the 7-day notice required under §83.60(1)(b). But the court will deny an eviction that is determined to be retaliation for a tenant’s legitimate complaint of noncompliance by the landlord.
Notices, Entry, and Evictions in Florida
In Florida, landlords may enter the rental unit upon reasonable notice and during reasonable hours. The law defines reasonable notice as at least 24 hours before entry. Reasonable hours are between 7:30 AM and 8:00 PM. Yet §83.53(2) provides a few exceptions to these rules, including:
- Emergency situations
- Where the tenant consents to entry
- Where the tenant unreasonably denies entry
- Situations where the tenant has been absent from the unit for an extended period
Landlords can’t abuse their right or entry or use the right to harass tenants.
Notices Required Before Filing an Eviction Proceeding
Nonpayment of the rent isn’t the only reason for an eviction. A tenant may have never been behind on rent, but a landlord can still evict the tenant if they’ve violated some other provision of the lease. For example, you can evict a tenant if they violate a lease provision against disturbing their neighbors with loud music.
If a tenant falls behind on their rent, the landlord can send a written notice demanding payment either by mail, hand-delivery, or leaving the notice at the residence. The tenant has three days to catch up on the rent. The 3-day period excludes weekends and holidays. §83.56(3) provides boilerplate for this 3-day notice. If a landlord accepts partial rent during the 3-day period, §83.56(5)(a) requires a new 3-day notice before the landlord can file an eviction action in court.
The notice requirements are different where the tenant breaches the lease for a reason other than non-payment of the rent. For example, if the lease only allows small dogs and cats as pets, but a tenant has a small snake living in the rental unit, a landlord may demand the tenant remove the snake or face eviction.
The landlord must send a written notice by mail, hand-delivery, or leaving a copy at the residence giving the tenant seven days to remove the snake. §83.56(2)(b) provides the precise language for this notice. If after seven days, the tenant has not removed the pet, the landlord can begin a court action to evict the tenant and their pet.
If instead of a small snake as a pet, the tenant has a 150-pound Burmese Python roaming freely through their apartment, landlords do not have to give the tenant an opportunity to remove the pet since it’s illegal to have this type of pet. §83.56(2)(a) provides the form for this notice that gives the tenant seven days to vacate the rental unit.
Under §379.372, even if the tenant has a license to keep the animal for research, it’s doubtful a tenant can safely pen a Burmese Python in an apartment. For this tenant, it’s probably a good idea to send the 7-day notice by mail rather than risk a potential confrontation with an angry python.
Now that we have the notices out of the way, we can start the eviction process.
The Eviction Process
Once the 3-day or 7-day period has elapsed, you can file an eviction proceeding in court. If you’re only seeking removal of the tenant, the case will be under Florida’s summary procedure rules. That means the tenant only has five days to file their answer with the court or risk default judgment against them.
If you’re also asking the court for monetary compensation for issues such as back rent, liquidated damages, or damage to the rental unit, the summary procedure rules do not apply. In these cases, the tenant usually has 20 days to answer.
If the court decides in your favor, a sheriff’s deputy serves an eviction notice on the tenant. If the tenant hasn’t vacated the rental unit and removed their possessions within 24 hours, the sheriff will return and physically remove the tenant. You can remove the tenant’s possessions while the sheriff is there.
If you try to conduct an eviction without going through the court procedures, under §83.67(6), the court will order you to pay the tenants as much as three months’ rent. Illegal eviction tactics include:
- Changing the locks
- Blocking essential services such as water or electricity
- Removing windows or doors
- Other similar activities designed to put pressure on the tenant to leave
Landlord & Tenant Duties and Rights in Florida
Both the landlord and tenant have duties and rights under Florida law. Under §83.51, landlords must:
- Comply with housing, building, and health codes
- Where there are no applicable codes, a landlord must ensure the rental unit is in habitable condition
If the property contains multiple units, the landlord is also required to:
- Handle pest control
- Locks and keys
- Garbage removal
- Heat during winter
- Running water
- Hot water
§83.52 requires tenants to:
- Comply with housing, building, and health codes
- Keep their rental unit clean and sanitary
- Take out the garbage
- Keep the plumbing clean
- Not destroy or damage the landlord’s property
Disclosures in Florida
Under Florida law, you’re required to provide new tenants with several disclosures, including:
- Security deposit disclosures mentioned above
- Radon gas information (§404.056(5))
- The name and address of the landlord or the person authorized to receive notices on the landlord’s behalf (§83.50)
As with all states, lead paint notice for rental units constructed before 1978 is required in Florida. Previously, Florida had required disclosure of fire protection measures for buildings taller than three stories. But the Florida legislature repealed that provision in 2013.
Lease Agreement: Be sure to include lease dates, fees, late fees and early termination policies
Rent Payments: Tenant must rent on time. If the landlord fails to make property repairs, tenants can withhold rent with a written notice of atleast 7 days.
Security Deposit: No limit on the amount of security deposit
Access to Dwelling: Landlord needs to provide atleast 24 hours notice before acessing the tenant's dwelling. Reasonable hours are between 7.30 am and 8 pm.
Disclosures: Landlords should provide disclosures around security deposit, radon gas and information on who is authorized to receive notices. Additionally, landlords should provide lead paint notice.