In South Florida’s hot, humid, and often rainy climate, it’s quite common for water to find its way into a tenant’s rental unit. Whether the water comes from a damaged roof, leaky AC, or burst pipe is irrelevant; if the water is allowed to fester, it can result in the growth of toxic black mold.
Unfortunately, when it comes to mold problems, many landlords or property management companies may be unresponsive to tenant’s requests, blame the tenants for the mold, or outright refuse to do anything.
Every renter should know that they have rights if they discover a mold infestation in their apartment, home, condo, or rental unit. Pursuant to Florida’s Landlord-Tenant Act (Ch. 83, Fla. Stat.), landlords must maintain habitable housing environments when renting property to tenants.
Pro Tip: Please note that landlords are not required to make any repairs to the property unless the tenant notifies the landlord in writing that there is a mold problem. This step is absolutely critical to preserving your legal remedies. If you need help drafting the written notice, we can help. Fill out the form below or call us (561.372.3800).
Mold liability cases must be handled very carefully, and it is critical that you properly preserve and document evidence in support of your claim. But before crossing the Rubicon that is a personal injury lawsuit, the law provides you with a few alternative options to remedy the situation.
Repair and Deduct
The first course of action available to renters is what is known as “repair and deduct.” This strategy involves the tenants paying for the mold remediation and repairs out of their own pockets and then deducting the costs from their rent payments.
The benefit of this strategy is that you know for certain that the toxic mold in your rental unit will be cleaned up. You also will not have to wait for your landlord to make the arrangements—you can get the process started right away.
Pro Tip: Depending on the scope of the mold problem, tenants may be unable to reside in the premises during the mold remediation process. Landlords should arrange and pay for alternative housing. Any costs incurred by the tenant to obtain alternative housing for themselves should be deducted as well.
However, a landlord who has refused to undertake the repairs or who does not believe there is a mold problem, may be equally opposed to allowing you to deduct the costs from your rent. Don’t pay for any of the repairs until you’ve had discussion with your landlord.
Can You Withhold Rent for Mold?
Florida law also provides a second legal remedy for tenants: rent withholding. The relevant statute, §83.201, Fla. Stat., lays out a specific process by which a tenant is permitted to withhold rent until certain repairs are made.
In addition to the initial written notice mentioned above, before you can legally withhold rent, you must serve the landlord a written notice by mail or hand delivery that:
- Declares the premises to be “wholly untenantable,”
- Describes the precise repair or maintenance requested,
- Gives the landlord at minimum 20 days to make the repair or maintenance, and
- States that the tenant will withhold rent until the repairs or maintenance is performed.
If your landlord does not complete the requested repairs in the time frame given in the letter (or prescribed in the rental agreement), you may terminate your lease and avoid any liability for future rent or charges under the lease.
Can You Break Your Lease?
If a landlord is unresponsive or refuses to maintain the rental unit as required by law, tenants have the right to terminate their lease. The process by which a tenant can legally terminate a lease agreement is detailed in §83.56, Fla. Stat. Again, following the exact process here is vital.
The landlord must be given a chance to remedy the situation. Therefore, a proper legal notice to your landlord is required, which:
- States the nature of the landlord’s noncompliance with the lease agreement or the “habitability” standards in sufficient detail,
- Indicates your intention to terminate the rental agreement because of the noncompliance, and
- Gives the landlord seven days to resolve the issues (or start the repairs, if they will take longer than seven days).
Once the landlord has failed to fix the issues described in your written notice in a timely manner, you may terminate the rental agreement. It is good practice to include in your lease termination notice the exact date on which you will leave the unit and your forwarding address for return on your security deposit.
Pro tip: Many leases include an “early termination fee” provision, often equal to two-month’s rent. Landlords and rental companies may tell you that you owe the early termination fee in these circumstances, but that is false. You are not responsible for an early termination fee provided that you gave the proper seven-day written notice.
What If My Landlord Retaliates?
Some tenants are reluctant to send such written notices to their landlords because of the fear of retaliation. However, Florida statutes expressly state that it is unlawful for a landlord to retaliate against a tenant. Here are a few situations in which the landlord is forbidden to retaliate:
- The tenant has complained to a relevant governmental agency of a suspected violation of a building, housing, or health code at the location,
- The tenant has organized, encouraged, or participated in a tenant organization,
- The tenant has sent a written notice of their intention to break the lease for the landlord’s failure to maintain the unit,
- The tenant is a servicemember who has terminated a rental agreement in accordance with 83.682, Fla. Stat.,
- The tenant has exercised their rights under local, state, or federal fair housing laws.
Experienced Allies in Your Time of Need
There’s no legitimate reason a tenant should be forced to live in an uninhabitable space or to foot the bill for toxic mold remediation. Although filing a personal injury lawsuit against your landlord should never be your first course of action, it is an option to protect your rights and your wellbeing.
If you believe that there is a mold problem in your apartment, home, condo, or rental unit, your first step is to carefully assess the situation and protect your health and the health of your loved ones.
But when your bills start to rack up and your landlord shows no interest in following the law, consider meeting with a lawyer here at the Personal Injury & Accident Law Center. Having a trusted ally on your side that’s versed in landlord-tenant issues and toxic mold cases will be invaluable in weeks and months ahead.
We have experience in dealing with landlords, rental companies, and condo associations who want to deny you the right to live in a safe and habitable environment. We will advocate for you against the insurance companies and other organizations to ensure you receive the compensation you are entitled to. Call us today at 561.372.3800 or fill out the form below at we will contact you.