Florida Landlords Are Making 4 Mistakes with Tenants’ Security Deposits
From 2000 to 2017, the number of Florida households that were renting increased from 1,816,452 to 2,594,967. For 2019, renters account for 33.75% of all of the state’s residential households.
This increasing marketplace of residential renters, however, has caught a lot of landlords unprepared. The laws concerning residential tenancies has been around for a long time and its basics have not evolved much over the years. But there are some common and long-standing themes among landlords, it seems, where things go wrong. Those themes are only more prominently on display when renting is on the rise.
One of the biggest problems we see is in the treatment of security deposits. Most landlords and tenants seem to understand the basic concept that a security deposit is given at the lease’s commencement to pay for damages or abnormal wear and tear during the tenant’s stay.
After that, though, is where the problems begin for both sides. We have noticed four mistakes that are repeated so often that they seem to have become almost the de facto way security deposits are handled by all but the professional property management companies (and, even then, some of them don’t do it right). See if any of these apply to you.
- Landlords are commingling the security deposit in an account where other money is held. Under the law, that is not allowed. Deposits are supposed to be kept in a separate account that’s specifically for the benefit of the tenant.
- Landlords apply the security deposit when the tenant does not pay the rent to the unpaid balance – or, conversely, tenants think they don’t have to pay the last two months of rent because they paid last month in advance, as well as the security deposit. Security deposits are special. They are different than the obligation of the tenant to pay rent. They are taken to secure repair of the property at the end of the tenancy. They are not a form of rent to be used when the tenant has not paid or as some means to avoid paying the last or second to last month of rent.
- Landlords don’t send the right notice to tenants after the lease is over concerning what will happen to the security deposit. There are specific fifteen- and thirty-day time-frames for the landlord to act and issue notice about the security deposit once the tenant vacates the property. Similarly, the law has a specific form of letter that landlords need to send when the landlord intends to make a claim for damage to the property. If not done correctly, the landlord can lose the right to make a claim against any part of the security deposit. By extension, the tenant can lose his or her right to contest the claim if not handled timely and correctly.
- Landlords cannot automatically deduct the amount that they believe is due for damage to the property or even which they paid to recondition the property. Again, the law is clear on the notice process the landlord has to follow and even the lawsuit that needs to be brought to determine the amount of money a landlord is properly entitled to for having to restore the property to a suitable condition after the tenancy is over. Making the unilateral decision to deduct an amount from the security deposit and sending the difference to the tenant is not authorized by the law.
Of course, every situation is different, and you may be subject to a lease that has written terms that address one or more of these situations. In that case, what happens to you may be different. So, before you take action, look at the lease and, if everything is not clear, you should contact a qualified attorney to review your situation and offer you counsel.
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