Mrs. Tittlemouse in the Trailer Park

Once upon a time Mrs. Tittlemouse was having her home tented for bugs.  What with the creepy-crawly people in the plate rack and Miss Butterfly tasting sugar in the larder and all the other uninvited guests, she just could not stand it any longer, and she moved out temporarily to rent a trailer. The trailer park was owned by Mr. Jackson, a toad of a landlord, but an acquaintance of Mrs. Tittlemouse’s.  He had a great many rules:  no drinking, drugs, excessive noise, children, or pets.  This suited Mrs. Tittlemouse quite well and she certainly saw no aversion to following the rules on her part, so she signed the lease and moved in.  Immediately after that, Mr. Jackson sojourned up the river where he had heard the flies were hatching. Meanwhile back at the trailer park, none of the rules were being enforced.  The park ran amok with an excess of drinking, drugs, noise, children, and pets.  It was very vexing to Mrs. Tittlemouse who was a most terribly tidy particular little mouse!  However, she feared if she moved out, she might be sued, or at least lose her last month’s rent.  She even feared this may have been Mr. […] Read More

Free Legal Lecture April 8: “Landlord/Tenant Laws”

So you did not go to law school and you did not pass the Bar Exam.  No problem.  The People’s Law School continues in April with its series of legal lectures presented by St. Johns County Legal Aid.  The April 8th topic is, “Landlord/Tenant Laws.”  This FREE one-hour class starts at 4:00 p.m. at the Southeast Branch Library (6670 US 1 South, St. Augustine, Florida). The People’s Law School schedule continues as follows: April 22 – “Should You Ever Put Someone Else’s Name on Your Deed?” All classes are free and open to the public, and start at 4:00 p.m. at the Southeast Branch Library.  For more information on St. Johns County Legal Aid and their services, go to www.jaxlegalaid.org.   Read More

April Deadlines: April 1st & 15th

It is the first of the month, do you know where your rent is?  No fooling, if rent is due on the first of the month, then it is due today, April 1st. Renters pay rent and landlords collect rent and allow the renters to live on the property they are renting.  The concept is simple and easy to remember.  However, if that relationship breaks down, then landlords have a specific period of notification, with action and reaction time, allowing for checks and balances to be brought current before the matter goes further. If rent is due Sunday and not paid, then Monday, you can give a Three-Day Notice to Pay or Quit (pay or get out).  The notice must include only the rent that is due and no late fees unless “late fees” are considered “rent” in the agreement. After Thursday, if the rent has not been paid, then you can terminate the lease, but you have to file a Complaint for Eviction with the court.  Tenants in possession do have rights. Landlords have rights too.  The law provides a “summary” or shortened procedure for evictions.  You can choose to file a Complaint for Eviction Only, which costs less […] Read More

Renting Out Your Primary Residence

So you decided to make a little extra income by renting out your primary residence.  However, what you gain in rent you could lose in unexpected expenses and other losses.  Examine your choice carefully before you put a renter in your homestead.  Here are a few items to consider: Homestead Exemption Tax By renting out your primary residence, that property is no longer eligible for homestead tax exemption.  That does not necessarily mean that renting out your home is a bad idea, just make sure the rental income will not cost you more than you gain from homestead tax exemption. Homeowner Assistance If you are looking to rental income to help you save your mortgage loan, you may be giving up a most valuable asset to renters:  your home.  Many homeowner assistance programs are for the primary residence.  If you are not living there, foreclosure avoidance programs cannot help you save that property.  If the rental income is not enough to service the mortgage and save the loan, you may not have access to adequate mortgage relief. Being a Landlord Learn about being a landlord so you can do it cost-effectively.  Renters in possession have rights…even if it is your […] Read More

Your Landlord & Your HVAC System

Your HVAC system provides Heating, Ventilating, and Air Conditioning to your rental unit, but only the Heat is essential as far as your landlord is concerned.  Though we live in Florida, your renters’ rights do not extend to Air Conditioning. Defense attorneys have a term for landlords who shut off the heat on a tenant…that term is called payday.  A landlord who tries to evict by changing the locks or shutting off utilities on a tenant could be liable for damages or 3 months’ rent (whichever is greater).  However, Florida tenants are not entitled to live in rental units with working air conditioning. If you have a problem with your heating, ventilating, and/or air conditioning (HVAC) system, talk to your landlord.  If that does not help, follow proper legal procedures to lodge a complaint, and make sure your rent is paid up, even if you are paying it to the registry of the court.  For more information on renters’ rights, contact Legal Aid for help at http://www.jaxlegalaid.org/stjohns.html.  Even if you do not qualify, they offer free pamphlets on landlord and tenant rights and responsibilities. Read More

Cold Hard Settlement

Having the landlord shut off your heat is not ideal for your personal comfort.  It could also mean a cold hard settlement to you as the tenant.  While air conditioning is optional for landlords to offer, renters are entitled to live in units with water, electricity, garbage service, elevators (where appropriate), refrigeration, gas (where appropriate), and heat. Defense attorneys have a term for landlords who shut off the heat on a tenant:  payday.  If a landlord tries to “teach” a lesson to a tenant by turning off the lights, water, or heat, that landlord could be liable for damages or 3 months’ rent (whichever is greater) for improper eviction.  Renters in possession have rights…even if they have not paid the rent. Message to landlords:  Keep the heat on and follow the proper procedure for tenant eviction.  More information is available free online at http://www.rustylaw.com/wp-content/uploads/2011/10/Evictions.pdf . You can also read the entire Landlord/Tenant statute at http://www.rustylaw.com/wp-content/uploads/2011/10/Chapter83.pdf . The good news is that the courthouse has heat and air condition for whatever legal issue you have to weather. Read More

Hoarding & Rental Agreements

There is no legal definition of hording, but if you are going to try to define it in a rental agreement, that agreement needs to be written down.  One person’s ‘hoarding’ is another person’s ‘collection’.  What may be a subjective hobby to a renter may be an objectionable disorder to a landlord. The terms ‘rental agreement’ or ‘lease’ can be used interchangeably.  A rental agreement does not have to be written down unless it is going to be for more than one year (and if written, then it needs to be witnessed).  Because hoarding lacks a legal definition, you will have to define it in the lease. The bad news is that if you wind up trying to evict a renter because of hording and the renter raises a legal defense, you are probably going to go to trial to sort out if the lease has been violated.  The good news is that the renter has to be current on their rent in order to raise that legal defense. Read More

Holiday Rush & Pause on Renter Eviction

The hustle and bustle of the holidays does not apply to renter eviction.  Landlord-Tenant Law works off the courthouse calendar—not Wal-Mart hours. Tenant eviction is a summary process that can be done in as little as two weeks (if done properly).  Landlord notices come in increments of less than ten days.  Because that is such a short amount of time, the court does not count holidays or weekends to allow the tenant time to get things done.  Plus it is harder for a tenant to pay a landlord on holidays and weekends when banks are closed. As a landlord, you have to follow proper eviction procedure or it might not happen and you could lose more than rent.  If rent is due on Sunday and not paid, then on Monday you can give a Three Day Notice to pay or quit.  You do not count the day on which you give it, thus the renter has until Thursday to pay you.  If rent is not paid, then on Friday you can file a Complaint for Possession.  The Complaint has to be served by a sheriff’s deputy or other person authorized by the sheriff’s department (NOT the landlord).  Once the Complaint […] Read More

New Lease on Life – Legal Aid

What do you do if you are disabled, elderly, living on a fixed income, and your landlord locks you out of your apartment?  Contact Legal Aid. St. Johns County Legal Aid “Provides a wealth of justice for those who have neither.”  It is a lot of administrative law, poverty law—a lot of law that most people are unaware of—that makes a huge difference in individual’s lives.  It can give a new lease on life, whether in a landlord-tenant case or other civil law matter (such as consumer debt, foreclosure, housing, elder law, and family law). If you are seeking an attorney but think you cannot afford one, contact your local legal aid office.  Even if you do not qualify for service, the offices have many helpful pamphlets or they can refer you to attorneys willing to take cases at reduced rates.  St. Johns Legal Aid is located at 222 San Marco Avenue in St. Augustine and they are open 8:30 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. every business day. In St. Johns County, visit http://jaxlegalaid.org/v2/pamphlets/St.%20Johns%20County%20Legal%20Aid%20Information.pdf, and in Jacksonville, visit http://www.jaxlegalaid.org/v2/. Read More

Maintain the Power of Your Homestead Exemption

OJ still owns his home—he just has other accommodations.  Homestead is very powerful, especially in Florida, attracting celebs with big debts like O. J. Simpson and Bernie Madoff, because it does not put a dollar cap on the exemption from creditors.  Everything in that house is exempt because of homestead exemption once constitutional homestead is established. Constitutional Homestead rights attach once you own the home, live there, and plan to live there.  Be careful about estate planning and renting out your primary residence.  While you are busy transferring your deed to make inheritance go smoother, you may be losing your homestead exemption.  Similarly, you may want to lease your house for a little extra income, but wind up at a loss without homestead exemption. Competent legal counsel can help you accomplish your goals without compromising the power of your Florida homestead.  Read More