If someone rents a dwelling unit in Florida, they are considered tenants and protected under the state's landlord/tenant laws. This is the case whether they sign a lease or occupy the rental property under a month-to-month rental agreement. Even if there is no written agreement, a landlord/tenant relationship is still formed when the landlord accepts rent from the person living in the unit. Such renters have the same claims to rights of habitability and quiet enjoyment as those with written leases.
Who Is a Florida Tenant?
A lease is a rental agreement for a set period of time, often for one or two years. Anyone who signs a lease contract with a landlord is a tenant in Florida. But not everyone who is a tenant has signed a lease contract.
First, a valid residential lease agreement may be oral. In Florida, it is possible for an individual to enter into an oral lease contract with a landlord. (While oral leases of over a year are unenforceable under the statute of frauds, a person occupying the premises under such an agreement is still a tenant.)
Second, a tenant can enter into a rental contract for a periodic or month-to-month tenancy rather than a lease for a set term. That means that they pay monthly for the right to live there for that month. The party agreeing to live in the unit is a tenant in Florida. And even if there is no written rental contract, the person that pays rent every month in exchange for living in a unit is still considered a tenant.
Here is the long and short of Florida law on this subject: Whenever a person pays rent to live in a dwelling unit, whether a single-family house, an apartment or a mobile home, the renter is a tenant under Florida law regardless of whether there is a written lease or a rental agreement. Their rights as tenants are protected by Chapter 83 of the Florida Statutes, the Landlord/Tenant Laws.
Legal Right to Habitable Living Space
Florida state laws specify that any space rented to a residential tenant by a landlord must be habitable. That means that the unit must be fit to live in. It must be clean, safe and up to local building codes, and be structurally sound. The doors and windows must close and have working locks to provide security. If the unit is a single-family home or a duplex, the landlord must install working smoke detectors at the start of the lease.
The unit should be waterproof, and there should be no leaks when it rains. A habitable space also includes modern plumbing and sanitation, with hot and cold running water in both the kitchen and the bathroom. There should be a working toilet and sink in the bathroom, functional appliances in the kitchen, and some form of heat in the unit. A dwelling should include a safe electrical wiring system and an appropriate number of outlets. In multi-unit buildings, a landlord should also provide garbage facilities and pest control.
Tenant's Right to Quiet Enjoyment
Tenants in Florida also have the right to quiet enjoyment of their rented premises. That essentially refers to the right to privacy. Once a dwelling is rented, it is the tenant’s to lawfully use without interference from the landlord.
A landlord in Florida does not have the right to enter the rented premises whenever they like. Rather, the landlord can enter the rental unit only to either inspect the unit or to make necessary or agreed upon repairs. But the landlord must give the tenant reasonable notice before entering and they must schedule the inspection or repairs at a time that is convenient for the tenant. They can enter without notice only in the case of an emergency, like if there is a plumbing leak or a fire in the unit.
Right to Repairs
Landlords in Florida are responsible for all necessary repairs to the unit. If a unit is not habitable when a tenant moves in, or if systems or appliances break down during the tenancy, the tenant has the right to demand that the landlord repair the unit to put it in habitable condition. These repairs must be done reasonably promptly and at the landlord's expense.
If the landlord fails to repair the unit, the tenant has the right to withhold their monthly rent payment. This is sanctioned under Florida law only when the landlord fails to comply with an important responsibility. When repairs become necessary, the tenant must give the landlord seven days’ written notice of the problem. If the landlord does not fix the problem during that period, the tenant can withhold rent and seek the court's permission to spend money to make the repairs that the landlord failed to make.
Right to Vacate the Premises
A tenant has the right to move out of the premises for any reason if they provide proper notice to the landlord and make the move at the end of a lease or rental period.
If the tenant has a lease, they can move at the end of the lease period. However, many leases require that the tenant give the landlord notice of their intention to move two months before the lease is over. For example, if the lease terminates on December 31, the tenant should notify the landlord on or before October 31.
If the tenant does not have a written lease, they can move out by giving written notice to the landlord at least seven days before the next rent payment is due, if the rent is paid weekly. If the rent is paid monthly, they must give notice at least 15 days before it is due.
Evicting a Tenant Not on Lease
A tenant from whom a landlord or property manager accepts rent payments has rights, whether or not they are on the lease. But even if they started out as a subtenant or an unauthorized tenant, they can be evicted if they fail to pay the rent.
An eviction is a creature of the courts, however, and a landlord is not entitled to use self-help methods or change the locks to evict a tenant. They must begin the eviction procedure by giving the tenant notice to pay rent or vacate. If the tenant does not pay the back rent by the period set out in the notice, the landlord may proceed with the eviction process by filing a complaint in a Florida court.
The original tenant may also be evicted if their rental agreement did not allow co-tenants or subtenants. That would mean that they broke the terms of the lease and could be subject to a Florida eviction proceeding.
Teo Spengler earned a J.D. from U.C. Berkeley's Boalt Hall. As an Assistant Attorney General in Juneau, she practiced before the Alaska Supreme Court and the U.S. Supreme Court before opening a plaintiff's personal injury practice in San Francisco. She holds both an M.A. and an M.F.A in creative writing and enjoys writing legal blogs and articles. Her work has appeared in numerous online publications including USA Today, Legal Zoom, eHow Business, Livestrong, SF Gate, Go Banking Rates, Arizona Central, Houston Chronicle, Navy Federal Credit Union, Pearson, Quicken.com, TurboTax.com, and numerous attorney websites. Spengler splits her time between the French Basque Country and Northern California.