Security Deposit Claims Law For Landlords in Florida

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Serving You and The State of Florida

Security deposits are a standard part of rental contracts these days. Tenants pay them to the property owner or manager on the promise that they will not leave the property in poor condition and needing repairs. It is not uncommon, however, for renters to try and get their security deposit back, no matter what condition they have left a property in when they move out.

Security deposit claims can be time-consuming and frustrating for landlords to have to attend to. This fee is the one small protection that landlords have to be able to return a property to its former condition. If you are being hassled by a tenant who is trying to go through with a claim to get their security deposit back, the team at Lopez Law Group can help.

Florida Law Regarding Security Deposits

There are actually quite a few laws on the books regarding safety deposits in the state of Florida. These rules can provide an effective and clear guideline for safety deposit management and for returns of safety deposits to renters.

It can be confusing, however, to navigate all of the steps related to this process. If you are worried about making errors or denying the return of a safety deposit, you need to work with Lopez Law. The team at Lopez Law can help you to tackle even the most contentious security deposit claim to protect your interests when it comes to managing your property. We have years of experience supporting landlords in the state of Florida and are intimately familiar with the security deposit process.

There are many steps that need to be completed and deadlines that must be met when you are moving out a tenant in the state of Florida. You will need to be sure that you do return the deposit within the 15-60 days period if the tenant qualifies to get it back. You will also need to be clear about any deductions that have been removed from the deposit for repairs or unpaid fees.

Cleaning fees are commonly deducted from the deposit if the tenant has not taken care of any of the essential cleaning they agreed to complete upon moving out. These steps can only be taken, however, once a variety of other steps have been completed.

Non-payment of rent is an entirely different situation that is related to the Florida eviction process. If your tenant is not paying rent, they are no longer a regular tenant who is simply moving out of the unit. At this point, the situation converts to a legal eviction which can be best handled by a skilled legal expert. The security deposit will not be returned to tenants who are not paying rent per most rental contracts, but you might still be owed additional costs in monthly rent that has not been paid.

Securing a skilled lawyer to help you navigate the eviction process is often essential to ensuring that no steps are forgotten, and that the eviction process is executed correctly from the start.

Security Deposit Claim Process in Florida

The first thing that landlords need to do when a tenant gives notice that they are going to move out is draft a move-out letter. This letter will detail all of the steps tenants need to take to end their tenancy. You can be as specific as you wish in this letter so that tenants are encouraged to meet the requirements related to moving out that are detailed in their rental agreement.

Common inclusions in this letter are details about how you expect the unit or house to be left when you take the keys back. This means that you can be specific about if floors are cleaned, carpets have been vacuumed, and window coverings have been removed. You might also make specific requests related to trash, garbage, and food in the fridge.

Additionally, you can list out reasons that you would make deductions from the deposit amount. This might be for repairs, cleaning, or removal of tenant possessions. There are state laws that help to determine how much you can charge for these services, and you will need to consult them when making your move-out letter.

Lastly, you will need to remind tenants about the right way to return their keys and state when and how you will deliver any refund of their deposit that is due to them.

If you are already feeling overwhelmed, this is a great task to hand over to a skilled legal team. At the Lopez Law Group, we have years of experience in both drafting move-out letters and defending landlords whose tenants do not follow the guidelines laid out in them. The move-out letter is the first step that you need to take in order to protect your interests as a landlord when someone moves out of a rental.

Security Deposit Claims Law For Landlords in Florida

Inspecting the Unit

One of the other essential stages in the move-out process is the unit inspection. This needs to be done after the tenant has moved out, and you will need to be sure that you look at every single part of the unit for damage, wear and tear, and items that have been left behind by the tenant. Having an inventory and a checklist can be a good idea at this stage of the move-out process. If you are feeling worried about tackling the inspection yourself, there are companies that can handle this step of the process for you.

Always make sure that you have pictures of the unit in the condition that the tenant left it in. These pictures can be very helpful if you end up in a dispute with the tenant. A judge will also need to see these images to be sure that your story as the property owner checks out. Rent disputes and deposit disputes often can become a situation where two parties are both pointing the finger at one another when there is no photographic evidence of the condition of the unit.

Some rental agreements allow tenants a second chance to come back and clean the unit properly. You may or may not offer your tenants this option. You may also write into your rental contract that you can keep the security deposit if the tenant has not paid utilities or HOA fees as per the contract that they signed.

Statement of Deductions

The next step in the process is to prepare and deliver a statement of deductions to the tenant. This will be done following the inspection and will detail the cost of repairs, cleaning, and removal of junk or debris that was left in the unit. Receipts are often attached to this estimate for work that has already been done. Make sure that you keep the original copy for yourself so that you have this proof should you need to go to court.

This kind of work almost always eats up the entirety of the deposit that a tenant has placed when they moved in. This can lead to tenants arguing that they did not cause that much damage or that the landlord has decided to keep a deposit just to make improvements in the property rather than to clean up the damage.

This statement of deductions is often the reason that renters might sue for the deposit. Delivering this letter can go more smoothly if you have someone with experience drafting the statement for you. This is another aspect of the rental deposit process that Lopez Law is happy to take care of for clients. These kinds of deposit documents can be sourced online, but the more generic the letter and statement that you send to your renter, the more likely it will be that they will dispute your claims.

Security Deposit Claims Law For Landlords in Florida

What if the Tenant Sues for Their Deposit?

Even if you have followed all the laws and regulations that the state of Florida lays out for security deposit laws, you will find that some tenants will still sue for their deposit. They can disagree with the deductions that you have itemized or the repairs and cleaning costs that you have stated that you incurred when you took possession of the property again.

This is typically a small claims court issue due to the amount of a standard deposit related to renting. Tenants can defend their own case, and you could choose to defend yourself as well. However, having a legal expert come to court with you is a much better idea. You will be much more likely to succeed in keeping your security deposit if you have the help of a lawyer from the Lopez Law Group.

The maximum amount of deposit that can be disputed in small claims court in the state of Florida is $5,000. In some small claims courts, lawyers are not allowed, so make sure that you check on this detail or ask your lawyer to verify whether or not they can be present for the case. If your lawyer cannot be present, they can still help to prepare the documents and arguments that you will need to be able to share with the judge to show your side of the dispute clearly.

Tenants will need to provide notice to you as the landlord that they are planning to sue. This can be done via email, in person, or over the phone. Tenants can also write a letter in reply to your statement of the costs which have led to their deposit being retained.

If you have met the guidelines related to rental deposits that are outlined by Florida Law, you will need to decide if you are willing to release the deposit to the tenant after all or if you are going to head to court to defend your right to keep it.

Preparing for Court

If your tenant wants to go to court over your rental deposit dispute, you can trust the team at Lopez Law to help you to get ready for your court date. Preparation is always key for successful outcomes of court cases, even in small claims court. You may not be allowed to have a lawyer with you in court, but even if you have to represent yourself, your lawyer can help you prepare your case.

You will need to have the following with you as evidence related to your side of the story:

  •         A copy of the lease or rental agreement
  •         Copies of all correspondence related to the tenant’s move, like the move-out letter, the rules and policies related to cleaning, damage repairs, and security deposit guidelines
  •         Itemizations of security deposit fees and deductions sent to the tenant
  •         All photographic evidence related to the condition of the apartment
  •         All other relevant items that help to show your side of the story

Small claims court is not as intimidating as you might think. The judge in these kinds of courts will help to direct the flow of the case, and you will be provided the support necessary to navigate the process even if your lawyer is not present. Court cases in small claims court usually takes less than a half hour. The decision might be announced in court or might be sent out in a letter to both parties a few days after the case is heard in court.

Security Deposit Claims Law For Landlords in Florida

Can I Settle Outside of Court?

This is the most common way that rental deposit disputes are settled. It saves money and time for everyone involved and can be the easiest way to retain your deposit without having to go to court with a former renter. Lopez Law can help you to argue your side of the situation and can help you to draft a suitable settlement agreement with a former renter.

Having skilled legal support for the settlement process will make it much easier and less time-consuming than it would have been if you had tackled it on your own. Additionally, per Florida law, tenants have longer than a few months to be able to dispute your choice to keep their deposit. In some cases, they will have up to a year to sue you for the deposit. Make sure that you keep all of the documents related to the repossession and cleaning or repair of all rental units that you manage for at least a couple of years.

Can Landlords Sue for Additional Damages and Fees?

What if the security deposit doesn’t cover the damages that your former renter caused to the property? In these cases, landlords can sue tenants for the costs that were not covered by the security deposit. Lopez Law can help with these kinds of cases as well. This kind of situation can be more difficult when it comes to recovering the costs incurred by a tenant, so you will need a skilled legal expert working on your side.

The first step of suing for additional damages and fees is writing a demand letter that tells the former tenant that their deposit did not cover the full cost of the damage that they caused to the property. A deadline needs to be provided to the tenant, which allows them to pay the amount due before you take legal action.

Since these cases are often not covered effectively by a form letter, it can be wise to allow a legal expert to handle drafting the notice to the tenant and the process of pursuing the tenant for the costs they have incurred. These situations will also require that you have documentation and things like photos to back up your story about the condition of the property when you secured it from the tenant. These cases might also be settled outside of court, but they could be heard before a judge as well.

In either situation, the team at Lopez Law will be able to represent your case with skill and attention to detail. You can count on us to make sure that you are able to pursue a tenant for fees and charges that their deposit did not cover completely.

Security Deposit Claims Law For Landlords in Florida

How Can a Lawyer Help?

If you are embroiled in a dispute with a former tenant over their security deposit or added costs and fees associated with cleaning and repairs, you need to seek the support of a skilled legal team. The team at Lopez Law Group can help you to present your side of the case to a judge, or they can prepare documents for you to use to notify a tenant about the security deposit and move-out process.

We have years of experience working on security deposit cases, and we are happy to support and represent our clients who are landlords. No matter what kind of rental dispute you are having with a former or current tenant, we can help! We offer a wide array of legal services to our clients who are landlords.

Contact us today for a consultation, and let us help you to seek a favorable outcome in rental disputes and other conflicts with your tenants.


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