Florida landlords must follow a series of Florida state laws that govern their conduct towards their tenants. While this statutory scheme does not set a specific cap on the amount a landlord may charge a tenant as a late fee, it does offer a certain level of guidance.
Lease or Rental Agreement
The amount of a late fee that a landlord may assess to a renter and the time frame in which the fee can be assessed should be clearly articulated in the rental lease. This lease should be signed prior to the inhabitation of the rental unit. The components of the lease must be developed in accordance with provisions of state law. The Florida Division of Consumer Services advises tenants to ensure that they thoroughly understand the terms of this agreement prior to signing.
Florida Landlord-Tenant Law
Florida landlord-tenant rules are established by Title 6 Chapter 83 of the Florida State Code. While the law is extensive and speaks to many facets of landlord-tenet procedure, it does not specifically set a maximum cap on the amount of late fees that a landlord is entitled to assess to a tenant who is delinquent in his rent payment.
The law does establish procedures governing the return of the tenant’s deposit money and declares that a landlord must return the deposit within 15 days of the rental agreement’s termination.
Returned Check Law
While Florida law does not establish a maximum amount cap on delinquent monthly payments, it does set limits on the amount which may be assessed for a returned check. Title 6 Chapter 68 states that if the check is returned by the bank as unpaid, a landlord may charge $25, if check was for $50 or less, $30 if the check was not more than $300, and $40, if the rent check was for more than $300, or 5% of the check, whichever is greater.
Florida Deceptive and Unfair Trade Practices Act
Title 33 Chapter 501.201 of Florida code states that unfair methods of competition, unconscionable acts or practices, and unfair or deceptive acts or practices are unlawful. This section of state code has been used in the past to help make the case that certain fees charged by Florida landlords were inappropriate.
In 2004 Florida’s Fifteenth Judicial Circuit Court ruled in favor of former tenants who alleged that they were inappropriately charged certain termination fees by their landlord. In making their case, the plaintiffs pointed to provisions of the Florida Deceptive and Unfair Trade Practices Act. Following this judgment, Florida law governing termination fees was amended to provide landlords and tenants additional guidance. This case could set the precedent for arguments which would be made in court should a tenant allege a landlord is charging unfair late fines.
A landlord should use good judgment and ensure that his late fees are established and assessed in a manner which cannot be viewed as unconscionable and in violation of the Florida Deceptive and Unfair Trade Practices Act.