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Ten Legal Facts You Should Know About Renting in Miami

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Miami is the country's 5th or 8th most expensive place to rent (depending on your source), regardless of which, Miamians are still paying a premium to call this tropical oasis their (rented) home, making it all the more reason for renters to know their rights as a tenant. We all know there are some weird landlords out there, so no, it is not okay that your landlord shows up unannounced at 1 AM to "checkup" on the apartment, and unfortunately, there is no clause that prohibits a landlord from making you and your roommate sing the "itsy bitsy spider"—hand movements included—in his basement office in order to sign the lease (true story). Below you'll find a list of what to bear in mind before etching your signature at the bottom of the lease.

1) A lease does NOT have to be written. An oral agreement is actually acceptable, and the rental period will be determined by the payment schedule. For example, if the tenant pays every month, then the rental period is month-to-month, or if the tenant pays weekly, then the rental period is week-to-week, and so forth. (Florida statutes S. 83.01 , S.83.46(2), F.S., S. 83.57, S. 83.575)

2) Lease Terms: Always read through your lease and ask questions. You must completely understand the terms of the agreement prior to signing (and this goes for renting anywhere), as you will be bound to the lease's terms once you've signed. Be on the lookout for the following terms:
a. "Automatic renewal" -- avoid at all costs! Your lease will automatically renew itself unless you or your landlord cancels prior to the end of the lease. Basically, you will be liable for rent for the next whole term of the lease! Yikes.
b. "Tenant agrees to obey all future rules of landlord": Unless you want to go in blind and are up for ANYTHING, make sure to negotiate out of this provision.
c. "No one but tenant and immediate family may live in apartment": This could get tricky and even apply to pets. It could also ban any subleasing of the apartment.
d. "Rent may increase": In a place like Miami, this could get scary. Make sure to keep this clause out to guarantee you won't go broke by the end of your lease.
e. "Unannounced or unlimited entry": We'll get to this later; there are specific times your landlord can and cannot enter your apartment.
f. "Utilities are held in landlord's name and then billed to you": If this statement appears in your lease, what this means is your landlord can alter the utility amounts and then bill the increased costs to you. Make the utilities be in your name, so you're the one in control.

3) Security Deposit: Landlords are able to collect a deposit, and multiple rents in advance, however, these deposits are normally non-refundable, so do be sure you are convinced before putting down any deposit. Upon receiving your money, the landlord must send a receipt of payment, acknowledging where the money is being deposited, as Florida law states that a deposit must be held in its own account.

When your lease ends, your landlord has 15 days to return your security deposit, sometimes with interest, if there are no damages. If he/she does determine there are damages, then the tenant must receive notice within 30 days for the cost and the details of said damages. If you want to contest it, you have 15 days to formally reject the claim. This also means, however, that if you receive notice on the 31st day or later, your landlord has lost the right to keep your deposit! Cha-ching!

P.S. Even if you move out early, and give proper notice, you are still entitled to your security deposit! (S. 83.49)

4) Proper Notice of Termination: Unless your lease states otherwise, for weekly leases, termination from either party must be made 7 days in advance of the next rent payment. Month to month leases require 15 day notice; quarterly leases oblige a 30 day notice, and 60 days are required for a yearly lease.

If a tenant decides to terminate a lease early, the landlord has the power to terminate the rental agreement altogether, retake possession of the apartment and hold the tenant liable for any remaining rental payments that cannot be recovered by re-leasing out the unit, or lastly, the landlord can simply hold the tenant responsible for the rent each month. (S. 83.595)

If 5 days pass after rent is due without payment, an owner is allowed to deny the tenant access to their own personal property. Pay your rent, people! (S. 85.5055)

*Note: Miami Beach has a unique law requiring that termination for monthly leases must be given at least 30 days in advance to the last rental payment. (See Miami Beach City Code: Sec. 58-386. - Written notice of termination of tenancy)

(S. 83.03, S. 83.57, S. 83.575)

5) Double Rent: Let's say you decide to stay in your apartment longer, the only caveat being your lease ended a month ago. Well, not such a good idea because your landlord not only has the power to evict you, but is also entitled to collecting double your normal rent for the period you stayed over. (S. 83.06, S. 83.20)

6) Disclosing Landlord's Address: Little did you know, a landlord is required to provide an address where you can reach them. For everyone who has a landlord living in a foreign country (ahem, most of Miami), be sure you have an accurate address to avoid any future headache/sudden disappearances. (S. 83.50)

7) Landlord's Responsibilities: When renting an apartment, a landlord is responsible for providing a habitable, comfortable space, and it has to be structurally sound (plumbing included). Otherwise, a tenant may have the right to withhold rent (a last resort; you could be entering a battle). In these cases, the landlord has failed to abide by building, housing, and health codes.

The following cases are still the landlord's liability, though, you won't have the right to withhold rent: weather-proofed windows, roof, and doors, pest control, providing locks and keys, maintaining safety of the apartment, providing outdoor garbage cans and arrangement of pick-ups, providing heat, hot and cold running water, and smoke detectors.

While a landlord must arrange it, the landlord does have the power to require tenants to pay for garbage removal, water and utilities. When withholding rent, a tenant must notify the landlord, in writing, of any non-compliance to the agreement and the intention to withhold rent payments as well as give the landlord 20 days to fix the issue. If there is no response from the landlord within seven days, then a tenant is permitted to withhold rent. In the case that the landlord tries to comply and fails, the tenant can either end the lease and vacate the apartment, or stay in the apartment and pay rent proportional to the "habitable" areas of the apartment. Bear in mind that when withholding payments, keep all unpaid payments readily available – not to be blown on a few bottles at LIV. If the landlord takes the issue to court, all of the unpaid rental payments must be paid immediately, and will only be returned if the tenant wins. (S. 83.201, S. 83.51, 83.67)

P.S. Even if you're big into Home Depot, a DIY-addict, and decide to make your own repairs, or you have a favorite repairman, don't expect your landlord to reimburse you for any out-of-pocket costs, as Florida law does not oblige it. (S. 83.201)

8) Renter's Responsibilities: Landlords aren't the only ones responsible for an apartment. Tenants have their fair share of responsibility as well. Renters will be liable for abiding by building, housing, and health codes, keeping the apartment clean and taking out the garbage, ensuring the plumbing is clean and repaired (no, do not flush pizza down a toilet), as well as using equipment/appliances safely and cautiously. In addition, tenants are not allowed to make any changes to the apartment nor damage any part of the apartment. Finally, tenants and their guests are required to not be disturbances to the building (I'm talking to the person blasting Tiesto down the hall for twelve hours straight on a weekday – welcome to Miami). (S. 83.52)

9) Landlord Right of Entry: As mentioned earlier, your landlord is NOT allowed to come in to the apartment at any and all times of day. In fact, Florida law requires that only during emergencies (think fire or leaking water bed*), when a tenant has left the apartment unoccupied for more than half of the rental period without notice, or the rent is late, can the landlord come in unannounced. If there is no emergency, a landlord must give at least 12 hours of notice, arriving between the times of 7:30 AM and 8:00 PM. (S. 83.53)

10) Eviction: In Florida, there are several reasons for eviction. The first is if you miss a rent payment. If this is the case, the landlord has three business days before proceeding with the eviction (by mail, directly to you, or left at the residence). If you pay within the three days, then the landlord has lost the right to end your agreement. The second reason would be intentional damage or causing multiple disturbances to the building, which allows the landlord to give a 7 day notice for the tenant to leave the apartment. If the tenant does not comply, then the landlord can get you evicted. If the disturbance is "curable," like having an unauthorized pet or guest, and complied with before the seventh day, then the tenant can remain in the apartment. If the tenant commits the same disturbance within the next year, then the landlord can proceed with the eviction. Finally, the third reason for eviction arises when a tenant legally abandons the apartment, or leaves without any notice for more than half of the rental period when the rental payment is not current. For the lucky ones going on a lengthy Eurotrip this summer, you might want to consider giving a copy of your itinerary to your landlord who lives in Argentina.

Even if the tenant commits a crime within the building, an eviction can only take place by judge's order (unless the apartment was legally abandoned). Without this court order, it is still permissible to live in your dwelling. During this period, it is considered unlawful for the landlord to change locks, confiscate personal property, or turn off any utility prior to the judge's determination, otherwise, the landlord could be sued for the damages or three months' rent, whichever costs more. (S. 83.05, S. 83.20)

*Bonus* Water Beds: Apparently, water beds, also known as "flotation bedding systems" are such an issue here that they get their very own statute (see s. 83.535), and for your information, unless under violation of the building's codes, landlords CANNOT prohibit them (score!), but you'll have to get insurance with that (insurance sold separately).

Last but not lease (ha), be sure to keep a paper trail sent through certified mail (go on, it's only a few dollars); the minutiae within the lease could determine how you'll (literally) live for the next week/month/year of your life.—Alexandra J Miller

· Miami is the 5th least affordable county for renters [New Times]
· Miami is the 8th most expensive metro to rent, unsurprisingly [Curbed]
· Landlord & Tenant Florida Statutes [leg.state.fl.us]
· Landlord/Tenant Law in Florida [Dept. of Consumer Services]
· Renter's Rights Handbook [Florida PIRG]
· Miami Beach Florida City Code [Municode]