Do you know your rights as a tenant? Attorney answers common questions

After an investigation into living conditions at a local apartment complex, we are helping you to better understand your rights as a tenant.

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – One of the most common complaints the I-TEAM receives involves tenants upset with their landlord about maintenance problems that are not being corrected. In many cases, we learn that tenants are often not following the correct legal steps to hold their landlord accountable.

So we want to ask: do you know your rights as a tenant?

What can you do if your a/c is not working? Has your landlord dragged their feet to fix maintenance problems in your apartment? Do you have pests or mold?

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Jacksonville Area Legal Aid attorney Mary DeVries, who specializes in Florida tenant rights, joined us on The Morning Show to walk us through what your landlord is required to do under the law and how to hold him or her responsible if they don’t do it.

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Below are some of the questions she answered for us:

What can you do legally if your landlord just won’t fix something?

DeVries: Legally if it’s a serious condition that is affecting the tenant’s ability to live in the unit, the tenant can call the city municipal code compliance department to request an inspection by code compliance. If they come out and find a code violation, they’re going to demand that the landlord make a repair, and if they come back to the unit and the repair hasn’t been made, they can cite the landlord, fine the landlord, bring them into court. They can potentially condemn the property if it’s not fit to be lived in.

Tenants who live in HUD-subsidized complexes can report these violations to HUD and if it’s a serious violation, HUD can come and investigate the condition and make the landlord make a repair.

And then finally, if neither of those options works, if the condition is serious and the tenant gives proper notice, the tenant can withhold rent or in some cases terminate the lease.

Does that include problems with mold? What about pests?

DeVries: Each type of condition in the home really requires a separate analysis because some of the conditions you might have in your home that affect your ability to live there may be a violation of local codes and sometimes it may just merely be a violation of the lease. And sometimes there’s no mention in the lease or the code about the different conditions.

With mold, mold can be a little tricky because it’s not a code violation, for example, under Duval County codes, but the condition that’s causing the mold very likely might be a code violation.

What about broken air conditioning?

DeVries: Although this is Florida -- it’s hot -- a lot of the time, unfortunately, neither under state law nor under local codes do landlords have a responsibility to provide a/c. With that being said, if the lease requires the landlord to maintain the equipment and the fixtures in the home, the lease may require the landlord to make repair. And if the lease is silent and when you moved in there was a working a/c, the landlord may still have some responsibility. So though local code compliance may not be able to assist in those types of cases, tenants may have other rights.

Can a tenant just stop paying their rent until repairs are made?

DeVries: That’s a common question that we get at Jacksonville Legal Aid. The simple answer is no, you can’t just stop paying the rent. In order for a tenant to properly withhold future rent, first the tenant has to give a notice that demands a repair. The notice has to meet all the requirements under state law, including giving the landlord seven days to make the repair. If the notice says all the right things and the landlord still doesn’t make the repair, then the tenant might be able to withhold rent, but only future rent, not rent that’s already past due.

For more from her interview, press play above. Click here to visit Jacksonville Area Legal Aid’s website or call 904-356-8371 for more information.

About the Author:

Carianne Luter is a social media producer for News4Jax and has worked at Channel 4 since December 2015. She graduated from the University of North Florida with a communication degree.