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What makes a rental uninhabitable?

There are places that you probably don't really want to inhabit and there are places that are legally uninhabitable.

What's the difference?

Under Florida law, a property that a landlord has let fallen into disrepair can be declared "uninhabitable," which can allow a tenant to withhold rent until appropriate repairs are made or even void a lease entirely.

Florida is actually one of the stricter states when it comes to protecting the rights of tenants. Some important points to remember about Florida's laws regarding what could make a place uninhabitable include:

  • Violations of local building codes or health codes
  • Plumbing that does not work, especially a lack of hot water or a toilet that doesn't flush
  • A roof that is not leak-proof
  • Exterior walls that aren't leak-proof or those that show signs of crumbling
  • Stairs that have rotted or decayed from age or insect damage
  • Windows that are cracked, not sealed or not in working condition
  • Doors that don't fit tightly to their settings and aren't capable of being firmly secured against the outside
  • The presence of rodents inside the home
  • Wiring that is inadequate or not updated to code
  • Insect infestations, including ants, roaches and bedbugs

If a landlord keeps the property in reasonable repair and responds timely to complaints or requests for repairs from tenants, a short-term problem isn't enough to have a place declared uninhabitable.

However, if the landlord fails to respond to verbal and written requests for repairs and allows the property to decline, that's enough for a tenant to take necessary legal action.

Generally speaking, tenants should start with their local community's bureau of code enforcement. They can ask that the local officials intervene with the landlord.

If that fails, a tenant can take the next step and withhold rent. However, it's important to note that there is a legally-correct way to withhold rent payments. The landlord has to be notified well in advance and given time to fix the situation.

Because tenant-landlord disputes can get unpleasant, it's wise to consider exploring all your legal options with a professional before you act.

Source: www.leg.state.fl.us, "The 2017 Florida Statutes," accessed Jan. 19, 2018

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