As a landlord, there are several liability pitfalls that you should be aware of to protect yourself from potential legal issues. Some of the most common liability pitfalls for landlords include:
Failure to maintain a safe and habitable property: Landlords have a legal obligation to ensure that their rental properties are safe and habitable. In Florida, landlords must comply with the following obligations: applicable building, housing, and health codes; or 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. There are exceptions to these obligations for a single-family unit or duplex, as those obligations may be altered or modified in writing.
Violations of fair housing laws: Landlords must comply with fair housing laws, which prohibit discrimination based on race, color, religion, national origin, sex, familial status, and disability. Violations of these laws can result in costly fines and legal penalties. In Florida, landlords also have the obligation not to discriminate against persons in the military.
Failure to provide adequate security measures: Landlords may have additional responsibility to provide adequate security measures to protect tenants from harm. This may include installing locks, security cameras, and lighting to deter criminal activity. This obligation is limited, however, and landlords should consult with their landlord-tenant attorney to determine if the landlord should undergo security measures at the rental units.
Negligence in responding to tenant complaints: Landlords must respond to tenant complaints in a timely and reasonable manner. Failure to address issues such as water leaks, mold, or pest infestations could lead to legal liability. Creating a process to handle tenant complaints should be implemented and should consider the type of complaint being reported. Also, the lease agreement can impose responsibility on the tenant in the event their report involves a tenant obligation and is caused by the tenant. Also, the landlord should ask the tenant to provide pictures or video of the reported problem to help the landlord gauge what response and what vendor is needed is address the complaint.
Improper handling of tenant deposits: Landlords must handle tenant deposits in accordance with state and local laws. Failure to do so can result in legal action and costly penalties. In Florida, landlords must hold the deposit according to F.S. 83.49, and when the tenant has vacated the premises for termination of the lease, the landlord has 15 days to return the deposit if the landlord has not intent to make a claim and 30 days to make a claim in writing to the tenant’s last known address by certified mail if the landlord has an intent to make a claim. Failure to timely make a claim on the deposit will result in the landlord losing his ability to use the deposit, but the landlord may still file an action for damages.
Failure to obtain proper insurance coverage: Landlords should obtain adequate insurance coverage to protect themselves from potential liability claims. This may include liability insurance, property insurance, and/or umbrella insurance. There are also landlord protection insurance programs available on the market that may cover items such as unpaid rent when the tenant “skips”, eviction costs, malicious damages, re-key costs, etc.
In sum, it's essential for landlords to be proactive in addressing potential liability issues and to seek legal advice when necessary to avoid costly legal problems.
If you are a landlord, property manager, or investor, and you need a partner to help you manage your rental property, contact aDoor Property Management, LLC. We can help.