RogueLandlord2

There is a famous saying, “they don’t know what they don’t know.” To be specific, for the property management business it might seem easy to collect rent on a monthly basis and take care of maintenance issues but when it comes to the laws and/or Florida statues you may be breaking them unknowingly. For best practices in property management there is another well known saying, “walk softly and carry a big stick.”

Quotes They don’t know what they don’t know.”

Recently, I had an old client who had a serious run in with her landlord. I am sure it was unknowingly, but the landlord broke many laws in a seemingly “simple” situation. The irony about this story is that the client to whom this happened had just hired us to manage her local rental property while moving back to the east coast of Florida. When the landlord found out that my client had hired a property manager, she told my client that she was crazy to hire someone and spend the money and that it was “easy” to manage your own property.

For the purposes of this story we will refer to my client as the tenant and the owner as the landlord.

Seven months into the tenant’s lease the landlord decided to do a property inspection and texted the tenant regarding entry for the inspection providing less than 24 hours notice of the inspection. The inspection was performed and the landlord emailed the tenant informing her that her dirty clothes on the floor and her coffee mug in the family room on the coffee table proved unsanitary conditions.  There were small stains on the carpet at the entry way and the tenant was hereby notified that she was out of compliance with her lease.  It all had to be cleaned up with carpets cleaned and she would be re-inspecting within the week. Below are the pictures of the “stains” on the carpets.

Carpet

Now, as you can see the “stains” are not serious.  Considering this unsanitary is not a reasonable conclusion. Obviously, calling the tenant unsanitary and requiring her to clean the carpets was reason for the tenant to question the landlord’s decisions and motives. The landlord had already entered the apartment with less than 24 hours notice and was coming again, but in her many text messages and emails to the tenant the owner had basically implied that it was her apartment and she could enter whenever she wanted. The tenant no longer felt safe in her own apartment and felt as if at any moment the landlord could or would enter her apartment.  Her response to the landlord was that she would check with her attorney regarding all the notices she received and get back with her ASAP. Apparently, that was enough to set this landlord off…the landlord’s response was that she was giving the tenant 30 days notice to vacate! Now the tenant was extremely upset and with the landlord’s threats to enter the apartment the tenant decided this was her opportunity to move.

That weekend the tenant began moving out of the apartment with 5 months left on the lease. She had already paid rent for the month and still had 3 weeks left in the month. She delivered notice to the landlord that she would be out before the end of the month and that the landlord may retain her deposit. She was moving out and was going to have the property and the carpets cleaned. In the meantime, the landlord decided that harassment of the tenant was the best way to handle this situation. She started to text her sometimes up to 20 times a day calling at all hours including one night 7 times between the hours of 8pm and 1am. On the advice of the tenants council, she kept her responses short, simple and factual. The landlord’s actions escalated to threatening to call the tenant’s employer (the tenant is a teacher). The tenant asked the landlord to only contact her on her personal email and cell phone.

The threats turned into actions when the landlord actually copied the tenant on an email to the superintendent of schools for the county! Now, the tenant had to go into work and speak with her principal about the landlord from Hell and the harassment that she had been dealing with (Note: the tenant was not behind on rent). Next, the landlord found the phone number for the tenant’s parents, began calling them and threatened to call the police. The stress was starting to get to the tenant. She completed her move out on a Saturday and had scheduled the carpets and property to be cleaned on the following Wednesday, a full two weeks prior to the months end (remember she has already paid for this month). On the following Tuesday, the tenant went to the property and the landlord had changed the locks! Not only did the landlord change the locks, but when the tenant called to have the power turned off the landlord had already transferred the power. The tenant had hoped this situation would end but it didn’t the landlord continued to harass her at work and her employers and parents. Now the tenant was locked out of her apartment that she had already paid for.

In the meantime, the tenant decided to look this landlord up and found out that this previously employed air Marshall had been arrested for domestic violence in the past. Now the tenant was scared for her safety. She had clearly realized that she was dealing with an unstable person and after the landlords actions she also knew that no court would ever hold her liable for the remainder of the lease (on advice of council she had been collecting documents and keeping copies of everything between her and the landlord and could easily prove a harassment case).

After two weeks of daily harassment the tenant found out that the owner was listing the property for sale and the landlord’s listing agent called the tenant. The tenant was able to settle with the landlord for around $300 plus her deposit and so far to date hasn’t heard anything from the landlord. The tenant in the meantime has been considering suing the landlord for harassment and intentional infliction of emotional distress.

Quotes The tenant in the meantime has been considering suing the landlord for harassment and intentional infliction of emotional distress.”

It could be argued that the landlord was in violation of the following Florida statues (which I have shortened for the purpose of this blog Read the full statute here):

 

Florida Statutes Title VI Chapter 83

 

83.67 Prohibited practices:

(1) … shall not cause, directly or indirectly, the termination or interruption of any utility service …

 

(2) … shall not prevent the tenant from gaining reasonable access to the dwelling unit by any means, including, but not limited to, changing the locks …

83.53 Landlord’s access to dwelling unit:

(3) The landlord shall not abuse the right of access nor use it to harass the tenant.

 

83.03 Termination of tenancy at will; length of notice

A tenancy at will may be terminated by either party giving notice as follows:

(1) Where the tenancy is from year to year, by giving not less than 3 months’ notice prior to the end of any annual period;

 

Florida Statutes Title XXXIII Chapter 559

 

559.72 Prohibited practices generally

(4) Communicate or threaten to communicate with a debtor’s employer before obtaining final judgment against the debtor…

 

(7) Willfully communicate with the debtor or any member of her or his family with such frequency as can reasonably be expected to harass the debtor or her or his family…

 

(17) Communicate with the debtor between the hours of 9 p.m. and 8 a.m….

 

18) Communicate with a debtor if the person knows that the debtor is represented by an attorney …

 

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I find that with rental properties that were previously owner occupied, instead of viewing the property as an investment and business transaction owners tend to treat it as an emotional transaction. They take everything personally instead of thinking with a clear head. They act on emotions instead of facts and figures and the letter of the law. As a property manager, I have the hardest time dealing with owners that have previously lived in their now rental property.

This entire situation could have been avoided if the landlord had a property manager. A professional would have known that the living conditions of the tenant were normal wear and tear that that the tenant would be responsible for cleaning the carpets upon move out. In addition a professional would have known the laws and proper protocols in regards to notices and collections. The landlord in this scenario just didn’t know what she didn’t know. I find that when you treat your tenant with respect and common courtesy they respond in kind.

If you do decide to get into the rental property business the best advice I could offer would be to study up on your local laws and statutes and make sure that you are doing everything by the letter of the law before you take action. Pride can be the great killer in this business and just a little bit of reading and education up front can save you a lot of time and money in the long run. Also, check your emotions at the door.  Once a property becomes a rental property it is now an investment and as such should be viewed as a business transaction. Ask yourself, am I responding to my emotional attachment to this house or am I reacting like a professional and are my actions legal, ethical and respectable?

Information, Not Legal Advice: I/we are not attorneys. We provide the information on this website as a public service. Sometimes the laws change. We cannot promise that this information is always up-to-date and correct. We do not intend this information to be legal advice. By providing this information, we are not acting as your lawyer. If you need legal advice, you should contact a lawyer :)