The landlord has two basic obligations:
Comply with his obligations under F.S. ch. 83, pt. 2, and
Comply with his obligations under the lease agreement.
A landlord’s breach of his obligations may entitle the tenant to remedies under applicable statutes (Landlord-Tenant Act) and common law (e.g. breach of contract).
The tenant’s remedy include the ability to withhold rent or terminate the lease. If the tenant seeks to withhold rent or terminate the lease, the tenant must comply with the procedural requirements provided in F.S. 83.56(1) and 83.60.
Warranty of Habitability
Landlords should inspect the rental unit before and during the tenancy to ensure that the unit is free of defects. In a landmark decision, Mansur v. Eubanks, the Florida Supreme Court solidified the landlord’s duty to comply with the “warranty of habitability”, stating,
“The owner of a residential dwelling unit, who leases it to a tenant for residential purposes, has a duty to reasonably inspect the premises before allowing the tenant to take possession, and to make the repairs necessary to transfer a reasonably safe dwelling unit to the tenant unless defects are waived by the tenant. After the tenant takes possession, the landlord has a continuing duty to exercise reasonable care to repair dangerous defective conditions upon notice of their existence by the tenant, unless waived by the tenant. This latter duty corresponds to the statutory warranty of habitability… § 83.51(1).” Mansur v. Eubanks, 401 So.2d 1328 (Fla.1981); see also Thompson v. Rock Springs Mobile Home Park, 413 So.2d 1213 (Fla. App. 1982).
The landlord has building, housing and health obligations under F.S. 83.51(1) are provided as follow:
(1) The landlord at all times during the tenancy shall:
(a) Comply with the requirements of applicable building, housing, and health codes; or
(b) Where there are no applicable building, housing, or health codes, maintain the roofs, windows, doors, floors, steps, porches, exterior walls, foundations, and all other structural components in good repair and capable of resisting normal forces and loads and the plumbing in reasonable working condition. The landlord, at commencement of the tenancy, must ensure that screens are installed in a reasonable condition. Thereafter, the landlord must repair damage to screens once annually, when necessary, until termination of the rental agreement.
Altering Landlord Obligations
F.S. 83.51(1)(b) provides that the “landlord’s obligations under this subsection may be altered or modified in writing with respect to a single-family home or duplex.” If the residential rental unit is not a single family unit or duplex, the landlord cannot alter or modify his obligations under F.S. 83.51(1).
Limitation: this provision appears to permit the landlord to alter his obligations in writing as it relates to subsection (1)(b), but not for (1)(a). Therefore, if codes apply, the landlord may not alter those obligations.
Tip: the lease should define repair obligations of the tenant. Most tenants assume that the landlord will repair anything and everything that occurs during the tenancy. Establishing the tenant’s obligations and/or the landlord’s lack of obligation clearly in the lease agreement is prudent.
Caution: even though the statute permits the landlord and tenant in a single-family or duplex tenancy to alter the landlord’s obligations under F.S. 83.51(1)(b), any such alteration must be viewed conservatively to avoid imposing obligations on the tenant that would be deemed unconscionable.
Tenant Caused Defects
Notwithstanding any landlord obligation, F.S. 83.51(4) provides,
“The landlord is not responsible to the tenant under this section for conditions created or caused by the negligent or wrongful act or omission of the tenant, a member of the tenant’s family, or other person on the premises with the tenant’s consent.”
Tip: when a tenant gives notice of a need for repair, maintenance or remedy, the landlord should inspect or hire the proper vendor to inspect the unit to determine if the item in question was caused or contributed by the tenant.