JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – Our phones were ringing off the hook Thursday morning when we offered viewers a chance to receive free legal advice from Jacksonville Area Legal Aid lawyers who were at News4Jax to answer questions about a tenant’s legal rights.
We partnered with JALA to offer the phone bank after the I-TEAM investigation Rodent Residential uncovered a mice infestation at the Hilltop Village Apartments.
Here are the answers to the three most commonly asked questions:
Pest control, and who is responsible for providing it, was one of the three most common questions we received.
Attorney Mary DeVries explains that the answer depends on where you live.
“In apartment buildings, it’s generally going to be the landlord,” DeVries said.
But if you live in a single-family home or townhome, the tenant, not the landlord, is responsible for pest control, unless your lease states otherwise.
DeVries says that regardless of where you live, any complaint should be documented in writing.
If that still does not work, DeVries said: “If the landlord doesn’t correct the issue timely then follow the process under Florida law for withholding rent.”
So tenants like the ones the I-TEAM talked to at the Hilltop Village Apartments who say their apartments are infested with mice can’t just stop paying rent without filling out the proper paperwork first.
Another common question called into our phone bank was from tenants who say their landlord is not making needed repairs. Attorney James Tyer says that if it gets bad, call and report the problems to the city’s Municipal Code Compliance Division.
“If the city’s code enforcement inspects the property and it fails, then if the landlord refuses to make the repair, the city will cite them for that violation,” Tyer said.
Tyer says no property owner wants to have to pay a fine, so most landlords make the repairs.
That code citation is also an important form of evidence if a tenant wants to stop paying rent until the repairs are made.
Another common question Thursday was from tenants complaining that they have received an eviction notice.
It’s important you know this:
“They cannot be put out of their home until the CDC (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) lifts its moratorium,” attorney Suzanne Garrow said in reference to the eviction moratorium, which does not expire until June 30.
Until then, tenants cannot be forced out of their home if they have proof they lost income during the pandemic or have medical bills related to COVID-19 that prevents them from paying their rent.
JALA offers free clinics every Wednesday to tenants who need help with landlord disputes. Call 904-356-8371 to make an appointment and learn more.
JALA also has offices in St. Johns and Clay counties. To learn more about how to contact JALA depending on where you live, visit jaxlegalaid.org/contacts.
On the home page of JALA’s website, you can also find links to “I am being evicted and need help” and “Eviction Protections during the COVID-19 Crisis.”
And if your rental home needs repairs, on the JALA’s website, you can also find the landlord’s responsibilities to the tenant and the tenant’s responsibilities to the landlord.