The landlord-tenant relationship involves more than the exchange of rent payments for access to residency. In Florida, when a landlord and tenant enter into a lease agreement, they agree to be bound by a plethora of terms, whether express in the agreement or imputed by operation of law. One such obligation imposed upon both parties is maintenance. Maintaining rental property is a way to protect both parties’ investment in the property but also to comply with the law. Outside of the terms of a lease agreement, there are certain minimum maintenance responsibilities for both the residential landlord and the tenant enumerated in sections 83.51 and 83.52, Florida Statutes. Section 83.51 of the Florida Statutes designates specific areas of the property that a landlord must maintain and section 83.52 provides for certain tenant obligations in maintaining the rented residential property.
Before a tenant takes possession the landlord should inspect the premises and make any necessary repairs so that the unit is reasonably safe and free of any inherently unsafe or dangerous conditions that may not be apparent to the tenant. Pursuant to section 83.51, the landlord is obligated to maintain the premises according to applicable building, housing, and health codes. Even when no code applies, it is still the landlord’s responsibility to service and maintain, at a minimum: floors and doors, windows and roofs, steps and porches, exterior walls and foundations including other structural components. The landlord’s obligations under this subsection may be altered or modified in writing with respect to a single-family home or duplex.
The rental should be able to resist normal forces such as wind, rain, snow, heat, and cold, and all plumbing should be in working condition. On the day of tenant move-in, it is the landlord’s responsibility to confirm all window screens are in reasonable condition. Unless, in the case of a duplex or single-family home, the landlord and tenant otherwise agree, the landlord at all times must tend to: extermination of rodents and bugs, locks and keys, provide safe and clean common/public areas, garbage removal and outside receptacles, heat for winter, running water, and hot water. This provision does not, however, apply to tenant-owned property such as a mobile home parked on leased land.
If the landlord fails to perform these statutory obligations and the premises are rendered uninhabitable as a result, the tenant may be able to withhold rent payment. However, the tenant must give notice of her intention to withhold rent by certified mail at least seven days before the rent is due to allow time for the landlord to remedy the problem.
Tenants may rely on section 83.52, Florida Statutes as a guide to their maintenance responsibilities unless otherwise agreed to. Landlords often review these maintenance responsibilities with the tenant prior to moving in as part of a review of the lease agreement. In particular, section 83.52 requires that the tenant, at all times during the tenancy, shall:
(1) Comply with all obligations imposed upon tenants by applicable provisions of building, housing, and health codes.
(2) Keep that part of the premises which he or she occupies and uses clean and sanitary.
(3) Remove from the tenant’s dwelling unit all garbage in a clean and sanitary manner.
(4) Keep all plumbing fixtures in the dwelling unit or used by the tenant clean and sanitary and in repair.
(5) Use and operate in a reasonable manner all electrical, plumbing, sanitary, heating, ventilating, air-conditioning and other facilities and appliances, including elevators.
(6) Not destroy, deface, damage, impair, or remove any part of the premises or property therein belonging to the landlord nor permit any person to do so.
(7) Conduct himself or herself, and require other persons on the premises with his or her consent to conduct themselves, in a manner that does not unreasonably disturb the tenant’s neighbors or constitute a breach of the peace.
Failure to comply with these base provisions may constitute a breach of the lease agreement, subjecting the tenant to potential consequences including, but not necessarily limited to, liability for damages to the property, excessive costs incurred for cleaning, and, in extreme cases the tenant may be evicted for failure to remedy these conditions in a reasonable time. However, in the event the court finds that the lease or rental agreement contains any unconscionable provisions at the time the agreement was drafted, as a matter of law, the court can refuse to enforce the agreement either in its entirety or remove the unconscionable provisions.
The landlord-tenant relationship is a contractual one subject to sometimes harsh legal ramifications for breach. As a result, both parties should understand its various provisions before renting property. Landlords and tenants should be aware of their respective rights and obligations when it comes to making repairs and performing maintenance on the property. Failure to understand the rights and remedies under the lease agreement, as well as under Florida law, could render the landlord or the tenant in breach of the lease agreement.