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Landlord-Tenant Disputes 101: An Interview with Charles Carlson of Barnett, Bolt, Kirkwood, Long & McBride Attorneys at Law

By Charles Carlson

Please tell us a little bit about your firm and the areas of law that you practice.

Barnett, Bolt, Kirkwood, Long & McBride is a full-service business law firm. We represent businesses of all sorts, handling all of their legal needs. We also have an extensive tax, estates and trusts and probate practice. I am a litigator. I represent business and people who are in legal disputes. A good portion of what I do concerns real estate, like landlord and tenant disputes for example, insurance matters, commercial disputes and probate and trust disputes.

Is there a common misconception that people have about landlord-tenant law?

Tenants often think that they can skip a rent payment or pay chronically late, and still be able to occupy the premises indefinitely or drag things out for a long time without any problems. However, the landlord tenant laws are designed to expedite evictions when tenants don't pay their rent. If you are behind on your rent and receive a notice from the landlord, you need to take the matter very seriously.

What are some of the most common types of landlord-tenant disputes that you've seen arise in the Tampa Bay area of Florida?

By far the most common issue is the tenant's failure to pay rent on time. My cases always involve commercial tenants. However, even business sometimes fall behind in their rent, especially in an uncertain economy.

Can you briefly explain the basic rights that tenants have when it comes to disputes with their landlord?

Generally, tenants have the right to exclusive possession of the premises, free from unwarranted intrusion by the landlord. Residential tenants have the right to "habitable" premises. This can mean different things, but generally it is a place that is reasonably suitable for human habitation. In Florida, that probably means a place where the air conditioning works! Beyond the very basics, the rights of the landlord and the tenant are going to be spelled out in the Lease.

What obligation does a tenant have regarding payment of rent?

The Lease will define the amount of rent and when it is due. Sometimes the lease will give a "grace period" for rent payments. If a tenant fails to make a rent payment or payments on time, the landlord is required to send a written notice to the tenant. The notice must tell the tenant how much rent is due and give the tenant at least 3 days (or such longer grace period that is provided in the Lease) to pay, failing which the tenant can be evicted. If the tenant doesn't pay or make other arrangements with the landlord, the landlord can sue to evict the tenant and take back possession of the premises. That process can go quickly and a tenant behind in payment of rent in most cases is going to be evicted quickly if the rent is not paid into the court registry.

When should people who are having landlord or tenant problems consult a lawyer?

If the premises you are renting are not safe, if things are not working or there are other maintenance or safety issues, the tenant should contact the landlord or its representative and try to work it out. A tenant shouldn't stop paying rent if he or she has a problem. While failing to pay rent will get the landlord's attention, you might end up getting evicted, even if there were some problems with the place you are renting. If there are significant problems and the landlord is not responding, a lawyer can help.

On the other hand, a landlord who has a tenant not paying rent on time should consult with an attorney. The eviction rules are very specific and if you don't follow them, you might experience long periods without receiving rent. Finally, both landlords and tenants should consider consulting a lawyer to prepare or review and explain the Lease before it is signed. The Lease is a binding legal document that governs the landlord/tenant relationship. Parties should have a clear understanding of their rights and obligations at the beginning. That will avoid problems later.

Do you have any tips to help tenants/renters successfully resolve an issue with their landlord?

Communicate. Most tenants just want to enjoy the space they are renting and most landlords want happy tenants that pay their rent. If the parties communicate and treat one another with respect, a lot of problems can be avoided.

What's the best way for people to contact your firm?

Our website is Barnettbolt.com. An email is probably the best way to contact us.

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About The Author

Charlie graduated with honors from the University of Florida College of Law in 1987. ...

Phone: 813-253-2020

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