Leave it to Layron: Here is how to deal with unresponsive landlords

Many South Florida residents deal with unresponsive landlords

MIAMI – The Leave it to Layron team has received phone calls, emails, some viewers have even stopped Layron out in public with the same problem: an unresponsive landlord.

Legal experts, like Jeffery Hearne said Florida is not a tenant-friendly state, but tenants still have rights. Hearne leads the Tenants’ Rights Clinic at the University of Miami School of Law, and he’s litigation director with Legal Services of Greater Miami, Inc

"I think a lot of landlords are able to take advantage of tenants because tenants don't know what their rights are," he said. 

We took a common question to Hearne:  What should tenants do if their landlords won't make a major repair? Your landlord won’t make repairs?

“You can either withhold your rent, or terminate your lease and move out," said Hearne.

He said you must send your landlord a letter, explaining what the problems are and notifying him that you will be withholding the rent. The landlord has seven days to fix the issues once they’ve received the notice.

But Hearne warned tenants who put their landlords on notice and withhold rent cannot use that money anything else.

"You must save your rent because if the landlord then files an eviction, you have to deposit that rent into the court,” he said. “If you don't, you lose [your case] automatically." 

earne said the rent must be paid to the court in order to defend your case.

Hearne also warned Florida has no "repair and deduct" statute.  

"The tenant can't say, ‘I'm just going to fix it myself, and take it out of my rent’."

But, if the tenant and landlord reach a “repair and deduct agreement”, there should be no issues, as long as you get the agreement in writing, or document it somehow.

The LITL team also asked Hearne about security deposits.    

He said, many times, tenants think they're entitled to get their security deposits back the day they move out.  “Unfortunately, that's not the way the law is written," Hearne said.

Read about security deposits, here >

Landlords have 15 days to return your deposit.  If they plan to keep a portion of your deposit, or make a claim, they have 30 days and have to notify you in writing so that you have a chance to respond.    
“If you do get any papers from a landlord, it's very important that a tenant pays attention to them because that may be the beginning of the court process and it can move very quickly."

Hearne said Florida law is clear about retaliation.  A landlord can only remove a tenant under circumstances, and legally exercising your rights is not one of them.

Read about landlord retaliation, and when a landlord can get possession of your unit, here >

A standard rule of thumb is to thoroughly review your lease.
"If there's anything you don't understand, ask questions and talk to your landlord about whether you can negotiate it," said Hearne.

And should issues arise, Hearne suggested communicating before escalating.

"Some landlords are very flexible and understanding," he said. "Others aren't, but I think keeping those open lines of communication is important."  

Documentation is also very important: take photos, videos, get witness statements. Sometimes, you may also need to seek out legal help, or representation.

Legal Services of Greater Miami, Inc. has more information here >

About the Author:

Layron Livingston made the move from Ohio's Miami Valley to Miami, Florida, to join the Local 10 News team.