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The Ins and Outs of Landlord-Tenant Disputes: An Interview with Edward J. Fucillo of Fucillo Law Firm, P.L.

By Edward J. Fucillo

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

The practice areas of the Fucillo Law Firm, P.L. include personal injury, contract law and real estate law. Real estate law encompasses a wide range of matters such as residential and commercial purchase and sale contracts, homeowner association actions, quiet title actions, and also landlord/tenant litigation, which is a busy area of practice for this law firm.

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

Over the years I have encountered many landlords and tenants who have either misinterpreted Florida's landlord/tenant statutes, or who have relied on incorrect word-of-mouth information from their friends, family and the Internet. Landlords who draft their own lease agreements often fail to comply with various statutory requirements and inadvertently provide their tenants with legal grounds to fight an eviction. Some landlords are capable of filing a simple eviction lawsuit, but when unanticipated defenses arise or their tenant retains an attorney, those landlords often make matters worse for themselves and more difficult to resolve.

I find that tenants who have valid maintenance disputes with their landlord usually do not understand how to properly document the problem and fail to provide proper notice of the problem to their landlord. Sometimes those tenants will then improperly withhold rent from their landlord. This inevitably results in an eviction lawsuit being filed against them, and leaves the tenant with few or no legal defenses.

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

The most common dispute is perhaps the simple maintenance problem that escalates into an eviction and a claim for damages. In Florida, landlord/tenant law encompasses both statutory and contract law. Landlords and tenants have various statutory duties with regard to the rental property, but depending on the type of property being rented and the terms of the lease agreement, those duties can and often are modified. Before entering into any written lease agreement, it's important that both landlords and tenants fully understand their statutory duties and how those duties may be modified by the terms of the written lease agreement.

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

The rights of all tenants in Florida are determined by the laws outlined in Chapter 83 of Florida Statutes and by the terms of their written lease agreement. In a verbal lease agreement for one year or less, it is often difficult to prove what terms were actually agreed to by the parties. For this reason, I usually recommend that written agreements be entered so that the rights and obligations of each party are fully understood.

If a tenant has a valid dispute with their landlord, it is important that the tenant first become fully aware of their landlord's statutory duties outlined in Florida Statute 83.51, and how those duties may have been modified by their written lease agreement. Once it is determined that the landlord has a duty to rectify a particular problem, the tenant must then provide proper notice to the landlord pursuant to Florida Statute 83.51.

What obligation does a landlord in Florida state have after being notified about a tenant's rental problem?

In addition to the statutory duties outlined in Florida Statute 83.51, a landlord may also have additional contractual duties that are outlined in the lease agreement. In any rental agreement in Florida, there is an obligation for the parties to perform and enforce all statutory and contractual duties in good faith. In other words, landlords must take reasonable efforts to resolve problems for which they have a statutory or contractual duty to do so.

When should tenants who are having problems with their landlord consult a lawyer?

As with many areas of the law, early intervention can often prevent costly litigation and/or an unfavorable outcome to a dispute. If a problem arises that cannot be resolved between a landlord and tenant, consulting with an attorney who can fully review the facts and written agreement can often prevent the matter from developing into a lawsuit. I also recommend that everyone should fully read and understand everything they are asked to sign. If the document is not understood, then it's time to consult with an attorney.

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

I always recommend that tenants remain civil and polite with their landlord when asking for a repair, or if they are asking for an extension of time to pay the rent. If a particular problem is not being addressed by their landlord, tenants should also be sure to provide their landlord with the type of notice that is required by their written lease agreement, and not rely on telephone messages, text messages or email. Even though many people like the convenience of text messages or email, those types of communication most likely do not comply with the type of notice that is required by their lease agreement.

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

The Fucillo Law Firm, P.L. we are available by telephone at (727) 945-2862 or by email at ejf@fucillolaw.com.

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