Florida Tenant Rights for Security Deposits

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Florida renters and landlords have duties and responsibilities to one another per the Florida Residential Landlord and Tenant Act. "Questions concerning landlord/tenant rights are one of the top five areas of inquiry," says the city of Jacksonville's Consumer Affairs Division because too often, people in rental housing don't find out the details until they have a problem. To prevent a security deposit from becoming a point of conflict, renters should understand their rights to a refund, legal time lines and the grounds for imposing a claim on security deposits.

Purpose of a Security Deposit

A security deposit consists of any money that the landlord holds as security to protect the landlord from unpaid rent or damage to the apartment, according to the Renter's Handbook of the Florida PIRG Education Fund, a nonprofit organization. Deposit money consists of damage deposits, security deposits, advanced rent, pet deposits and any other contractual deposits agreed to by the landlord and tenant, says the Renter's Handbook. A landlord may not keep damage deposit money for repairs associated with normal wear and tear, such as faded paint, worn carpet and central drain problems, according to rentlaw.com.

Renters' Rights to Protect Security Deposit

Renters have the right to protect themselves against disputes or false claims surrounding their security deposit by conducting a preliminary walk-through of the property before moving in. Landlords are entitled to use the deposit as compensation for damages caused by the tenant, such as for cleaning and trash removal, painting and plaster repair, roof repairs and plumbing repairs, according to the Renter's Handbook.

A renter may note any damaged fixtures, appliances or features and provide the landlord with a copy of the items to prevent claims against them for pre-existing damage. A tenant may be accompanied by the landlord or nontenant witnesses to certify the existing condition of the property or use a camera to document its condition. Such walk-throughs may also be conducted, and the findings delivered to the landlord, upon vacating the property.

Breach of Contract/Termination of Lease

"The landlord cannot automatically keep the deposit because the tenant breaches the lease," according to the Florida PIRG Renter's Handbook. The legality of any such provision in the contract that allows them to keep the money upon breach would need to be determined by the court. A security deposit does not apply towards the last month's rent or the renter's total financial obligation when the tenant or landlord terminates the lease.

Handling of Deposit Money

Florida law requires landlords to handle the security deposit in a specific manner, allowing them to place it in an interest-bearing or non-interest-bearing account. When interest is earned, the landlord owes the renter either 5 percent of the total interest earned or 75 percent of the account's interest rate upon return of the deposit, according to Florida statute. Within 30 days of receiving the deposit, the landlord must provide the tenant with written notice as to where the money will be held--this information may also be written into lease agreement.

Timelines

According to Florida landlord-tenant law, the landlord has 30 days to send the renter a notice of intent to impose a claim on the security deposit. The notice must be sent to the renter's forwarding address, or last known mailing address, by certified mail. If the landlord does not intend to make a claim, she must return the money within 15 days. If the landlord fails to send proper notice within 30 days, she forfeits the right to make any deductions from the deposit, according to the Renter's Handbook.

If a landlord imposes a claim, they then have 30 additional days from the date of notice, to return the balance of the security deposit after deductions. If a landlord does not send the renter notice or return the money, the renter may take the landlord to small claims court to get his money back, plus court costs. These timelines may be enforced only if the renter gives the landlord proper notice of his intent to move out. If the renter terminates the lease early or is on a month-to-month basis, he must give 60 days' notice if he has been on a yearly payment schedule, 30 days' notice on a quarterly schedule, 15 days' notice on a monthly schedule or seven days' notice on a weekly schedule.

Objections to Claims

A renter has 15 days after receiving notice of a claim to object to the landlord's intent to retain all or a portion of the deposit. The renter may send the landlord a request for a detailed response to their objection--a breakdown of the damage and costs. They may send the matter to small claims court to have the problem resolved by a judge or mediator. The losing side must pay the winner's court costs.

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