It is interesting to consider how intricate Florida law can be when it comes to governing residential landlord-tenant disputes. Even the most basic disagreement between a tenant and a landlord can escalate very quickly.
When entering into a rental agreement in Florida, it is important to read every provision in the contract to avoid waiving any of your rights. It is equally important to know that local ordinances can protect a tenant against disputes with a landlord due to matters like negligence and even roof leaks.
What Laws Are Applicable to Landlord-Tenant Disputes?
There are several laws that apply to residential property disputes. These include:
- Contract law,
- Real estate law,
- Negligence, and
- Florida’s dog bite law.
Additionally, there are federal statutes (related to issues like fair housing and discrimination), specific state laws related to the residential landlord-tenant relationship (i.e. Florida Residential Landlord and Tenant Act – Florida Statute, Chapter 83), along with court opinions from past landlord-tenant lawsuits.
Finally, there are local administrative rules and regulations which have to be obeyed just like any other statute or state law. These local rules are also known as city and county ordinances and they apply to residential real estate within the jurisdictional boundaries of the governing bodies.
What is a Local Ordinance?
A local ordinance is a law that is passed by a county or municipality. Street sign sizes and the allowable colors of signage are two common examples of a local ordinance.
Every county in South Florida has a set of ordinances that govern activity within their jurisdiction. Below are links to read the local ordinances of three South Florida counties:
Cities may also have their own set of ordinances that apply to the landlord-tenant relationship, too. Consider the following examples from our local area:
- The Code of Ordinances for Hallandale Beach, Florida;
- The Code of Ordinances for Fort Lauderdale, Florida;
- The Code of Ordinances for North Miami, Florida.
What Local Ordinances Apply to Residential Landlords?
When a residential property owner leases their property to a tenant, that landlord has to comply with the applicable local city and county ordinances related to habitability.
However, habitably can vary depending upon the type of property that is being rented. For example, in most parts of Florida, vacation rentals may be treated differently than long-term residential housing.
Besides habitability, which is common to all municipalities, each city and county has their own specific set of rules a landlord must follow. Those rules can vary based upon a city or county’s priorities.
- In Broward County, a landlord may have to register with the county before he or she rents their property to tenant. See, Broward Ordinance Sec. 39-118. – Landlord registration of residential rental units required.
- In North Miami Beach, the landlord is required to “maintain a current tenant list at all times. The tenant list shall be available for inspection by the city upon reasonable notice. The contact person shall have possession of the current tenant list which shall be made available promptly in the case of a medical or law enforcement emergency.” See, North Miami Beach Ordinance Section 5-2.
Do Tenants Have To Obey Local Ordinances?
City and county ordinances must be followed by tenants, as well. For instance, most cities and counties have ordinances that control what tenants can and cannot do in the rental property. For example, some laws state that tenants in some residential areas cannot operate businesses out of their homes, or may not be able to have chickens on the property.
Additionally, if a tenant is behaving in a way that constitute a “public nuisance,” then the landlord as well as law enforcement has the power to step in. See, City of Hallandale Beach Ordinance Section 15-3.
Local Ordinances Can Be Helpful In Resolving Landlord-Tenant Disputes
In any dispute between a landlord and a tenant, it’s imperative to consider if local ordinances apply to the situation.
Understanding local requirements can help resolve a dispute, as well as clarify rights and duties between the parties.
For instance, if a landlord is procrastinating in making repairs to the leased premises, the tenant may get a faster response by reporting the violation to the local housing authority that governs the property. Most building departments or code compliance departments have the power to issue citations to the property owner for failing to adhere to local ordinances. A notice of violation issued by a housing inspector can lead to a daily fine being imposed by a local magistrate. Those fines can be up to a $100 per day and they can continue to accrue until such time the violation is corrected.
For example, if there is a roof leak in a Fort Lauderdale apartment complex and the landlord is slow to make repairs, then a reference to the Fort Lauderdale Building Code Ordinance may help move things along. According to that code:
“Sec. 9-308. – Minimum standards for roofs.
(a) All roofs shall be maintained in a safe, secure and watertight condition.”
Failing to fix that roof may not just be a breach of the landlord’s duty under the lease; he or she may also be violating a local ordinance by not fixing it.
Local Ordinances and Lease Agreements
Generally speaking, a lease agreement is the primary way to control the relationship between a landlord and tenant. However, these contracts are often written in a way that one party or the other waives some of their legal rights.
For example, a tenant may waive his or her right to certain notices or to have certain repairs made by the landlord (often times this happens when a tenant agrees to make repairs in exchange for a lower monthly rent).
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However, it is not possible for the landlord and tenant to contract around certain rules and regulations. If a city or county has passed an ordinance governing property in its jurisdiction, then the ordinance overrules the rental contract.
For example, landlords and tenants cannot contract around issues like building code requirements, health and safety issues or emergency situations. If a roof is unsafe, then the county will use its power to force a landlord to promote compliance with property maintenance standards, protect property values, and preserve the quality of neighborhoods and available housing.
What Should You Do?
When a landlord fails to provide a habitable housing, having evidence like a municipal code violation issues by a county or city agency can help a tenant when seeking court intervention. One example where a tenant can use a code violation to their advantage is when there is mold infestation. Having a report from a city or county inspector can be invaluable when a tenant tries to prove the existence or mold and proving the landlord caused the mold.
If you are having a problem with a landlord and the landlord has failed to adhere to a local ordinance, then a good piece of advice is to speak with an experienced Florida real estate lawyer to learn about your rights. Most real estate lawyers, like Larry Tolchinsky, offer a free initial consultation (over the phone or in person, whichever you prefer) to answer your questions.
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Do you have questions or comments? Then please feel free to send Larry an email or call him now at (954) 458-8655.
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