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Landlord Tenant Laws. Do you know your rights?

Posted on 9 September, 2015 at 13:45 Comments comments (0)

 

Part of my job includes answering the phone on a daily basis. Over the course of my tenure here I have had my fair share of calls that relate to tenant’s rights and landlords responsibilities.



Recently, the property that I rent was purchased by a new owner. As a renter these kinds of changes can be scary as you never know what kind of person is purchasing the property. When I first started renting there almost 2 years ago the property manager was a shady character whose idea of fixing things was quite literally bubble gum and barbwire. I'm not joking. At one point both items were used for repairs in my abode. After about 6 months of that I received a letter that a new company was taking over, and about a week later I was able to meet the property manager, who is now my boss. I was so glad to actually have a company managing my residence that was consciences about repairs and had a real live address to where I was supposed to remit my rent payment. Fast forward to 2015 and the new owner, once again I am facing a situation of an owner who has little to no regard for tenants and simply refuses to fix things. Since I have been a renter most of my adult life and 15 years of those spent in Florida I have learned the hard way that you absolutely have to know your rights as a tenant and I will share a little of my knowledge for those of you out there facing similar circumstances.



Let’s start with a few of the most frequent inquiries that I get.

Q: Your AC stops working and your landlord refuses to fix it, or is very slow to fix it.. What are your rights?



A: If you answered that it is the landlord’s responsibility, you are incorrect. In the state of Florida (and most other states) landlords are not required to provide air conditioning as it is not considered to be a necessity, heat is, but air is not. For those of us who have ever dealt with no AC in August we would beg to differ, but the law is pretty black and white. So, what are your options if your landlord refuses to fix the AC, or takes his sweet sweet time?


Your first option is to try and reason with him. A lot of landlords will bank on the fact that low income households or people who they deem are not intelligent will rule with fear when it comes to repairs. I've heard many complaints about landlords threatening to evict tenants when they ask for things to be fixed, so people out of fear end up staying and keeping their mouth shut. If you have this kind of a landlord don't fret, you have options. Start with a stern letter outlining the issues with times and dates of any service calls, etc. If you have any sort of underlying medical problem such as asthma, or a weakened immune system include that. By law, those with provable medical ailments are covered by the law should mold break out due to the high humidity and lack of air conditioning, but again, it must be provable. That includes mold tests and medical records. Also, let your landlord know that when you moved in, you signed a lease and the air conditioning was working, now it is not, so therefore you would like a reduction in rent based on the new fair market value of the unit. Some landlords will respond to this type of letter and others will simply ignore it. Remember to always send letters certified with return receipt requested and keep meticulous files.



Wonder if he had to finally use his AK?



So now you’ve sent the letter and your landlord ignores you. Your second option is to pay for the cost of the repair yourself, or purchase window units depending on how large your house or unit is. The window units will be yours and you can take them with you upon move out, thus leaving the landlord still responsible for fixing the AC when you move out and you leaving with something tangible. Many times people will sell used window units on Craigslist at discounted rates, so you can snatch a few up for less than retail to get you by. If you end up fixing a costly part on the AC, remember that you are doing so without any guarantee of getting your money back. I have heard stories of tenants who paid for their own AC repairs and took the parts back when they moved. While clever, I do not recommend doing this, if your landlord is an unsavory character you run the risk of not getting your security deposit back either, so be very careful about what you do. Your best bet is to write a letter first and send it certified with a return receipt requested to your landlord citing why he should make the repairs and be sure to include any relevant information about the time that AC has been out and any damages that may have occurred because of his irresponsibility in neglecting to fix the problem. Also, try to appeal to his sense of decency as a human being (sometimes they do have a soul.)




The Super had a soul.. Kind of.

 



Q: I have yet to get my security deposit back its been 42 days.. HELP!

A: By law your landlord has 30 days to get it back to you. If he still hasn't here's what you can do



I get calls frequently from tenants who are inquiring about their deposit. Landlords do have up to 30 days to return deposits and we let tenants know that upon move out. Rarely do our tenants have to wait 30 days to get it, it is usually much sooner, however we are a business with scruples and many renters have landlords that simply do not, or will try to push the envelope with renters in regard to the deadline, or simply not return the deposit at all and hope the tenant will just give up. Many do. I am here to tell you, DO NOT let landlords get away with that, ever. If they do it to you they will keep doing it unless you stop them by being the first to stand up.



It is important that you do a final walkthrough with your landlord and take a lot of pictures when you move out. If your landlord has an issue with a repair, it must be noted in the walkthrough or when they return your deposit with an accurate number detailing the cost and their intention to take it out of the deposit. You then have 15 days to dispute the deposit, and cost of items taken out, or you can agree to the deductions and cash your deposit check. This is all well and good if you do indeed get your deposit or some semblance of it back.



Now let's say that you don't get a refund at all, nor do you get a letter stating why.. What are your options then? The first is to write a certified letter with return receipt stating the day you moved out, your forwarding address and how much your deposit was. There are many sample form letters online that you can copy and use.  State in the letter that the 30 day window has expired and you are demanding return of your deposit within 15 days from receipt of the certified letter, or you will be forced to take legal action. If after that 15 days you still have not received your money, you can now take your landlord to small claims court. Any lawsuit under $5,000 can be taken to small claims court and most security deposits fall under this amount. It costs roughly $140 to file, and in your lawsuit you can ask for your court costs to be awarded back to you and paid by the defendant (your landlord) if you win the case. Initially you have to pay $140, but in the end it will be worth it if you recoup your deposit.



If you have decided to go to court, after filing you have to wait for your court date. Be sure to compile all of your evidence and have it ready for your court date. I cannot stress enough to come prepared. That should include dates, photos, and all correspondence that you have sent to your former landlord. When you arrive at court you can expect to wait a bit as other cases take place. The judge will hear your case and if your landlord does not show up, you win by default. If your landlord does show up both sides will be asked to present evidence to the judge. There are court mediators there that will try to get you to mediate your case and settle for a mutual agreement. Depending on how strong your evidence is it will be your best bet and stick to your guns for the full amount plus court costs, especially if you have left your unit in great condition and can back that up. If you haven't then be prepared to settle, you may not get the full amount if your landlord has equally strong evidence that you left your unit in unsatisfactory condition, or did not give a forwarding address, notice, etc. In the end if you present a strong and factual case you should prevail against your landlord and get your deposit back. One thing that should be noted, if your landlord/property owner does not show up, this means that you win by default however collecting on your judgment isn’t always easy, especially if your landlord claims that they have nothing financially, or they are missing in action. You then have to go through a separate process to have a lien put on their assets including property, which when and if they ever sell the property your money will be returned to you. This can potentially take years, but ultimately if you are patient you will prevail.



BE PREPARED! Don't let Judy ask "Where'd you think you were coming today?!?!"



In the next couple of weeks I will discuss more Landlord/Tenant rights and responsibilities including Mold Remediation, Leaks, and Pest, oh my! Stay tuned…

 


Backyard Chickens Farm Fresh Friends or Fowl?

Posted on 11 June, 2015 at 13:00 Comments comments (0)

I was raised on a farm. Well, partially I should say, until my grandmother died and we had to move back to the city. Sometimes I wonder if this is the underlying cause of my extremely dual personality. Astrologically I guess I should be a Gemini, but since I was born in November I believe it to be because I was raised both a farm and a city girl. When we moved to the city my dad brought all of our livestock with us. My mom had the brilliant idea of sending us to the best public school in town, in an upper crust neighborhood, with very waspy children, and my dad wasn’t onboard. He would roll up to snobbery central in his wranglers and ropers with three sheep and a dog in the back of a beat up Ford and make sure to honk and wave at us much longer than necessary as he rolled off blasting Hank Williams Junior and the Oakridge Boys, naturally. At any rate I vividly remember all of the things that we raised on the farm especially the chickens. We used to win baby chicks at the fair and then bring them home to roost and they would lay eggs. The eggs tasted so good. I don’t know whether that was because they came from cage free chickens, or because of what we fed them but I know that finding that taste is few and far between. Which has recently lit the chickens in my backyard fire under me (figuratively people, figuratively)

NOT, my dad! But close..

 

A few years ago my friend sent me some pictures of the chicken coop her husband was building back home. Apparently the laws had been changed to permit backyard chickens in the city and chickens were all the rage in Portland. People were getting crazy creative with their coops, and the chickens were egg laying machines. I will have to admit I was a tad bit envious of her urban farming adventures. It is one of the things I dearly miss about living in such a progressive city. In the past few years, there has been some press in Indian River County about Urban Chickens and the squawk that has ensued. I’m am quite sure that Palm Beach County will be delayed if ever get on board with letting suburbanites raise chickens in their backyard, but I can’t help but dream of the possibilities.

 

The coops were made for roostin!Keeping chickens for pets or as an egg source is becoming increasingly popular as the sustainable food movement gains momentum. People are returning to basics, planting backyard vegetable gardens, shopping at local organic farmers markets, gathering rainwater for irrigation, and overall becoming more aware of the resources they use and where they come from. If you live in The Acreage, Jupiter Farms or Loxahatchee, you are permitted to have backyard chickens, but so far regulations have still not lifted for those of us in the city limits.

Until and if ever West Palm Beach gets on board to fulfill my dream of becoming an old McDonald I will have to get my fix for fresh laid eggs somewhere else. And if you want to get your paws on some of those farm fresh eggs there is still hope for people like us. Nestled between Hypoluxo and Lantana Road in Boynton Beach is Heritage Hen Farm. This awesome little gem is chock full of veggies, fruits, raw milk, and of course the coveted fresh egg. Their hours vary and they sell out of stuff early, but it’s worth a stop to see the farm and get the feeling that you are no where near the city, even though civilization is just minutes away. Local greenmarkets are also a source to get the good eggs. Farriss Farms sells eggs at the Palm Beach Gardens green market every Saturday year round for about $5.00 a dozen, again get their early. Eggs and dairy sell out FAST!

If you want to get onboard and petition for urban chicken farming, see the following links. There is strength in numbers and if enough people decide that they want to be responsible hen owners, then maybe just maybe some ultra funky chicken coops could be in our future!

http://www.browardpalmbeach.com/restaurants/fort-lauderdale-hen-project-petitions-city-commission-to-allow-backyard-chickens-6904335

 

DECORATING YOUR RENTAL ON A BUDGET

Posted on 27 May, 2015 at 20:00 Comments comments (0)

So you’ve finally score the rental of your dreams, a place to hang your hat, and a little slice of serenity, but with just one teensie problem, you don’t own it. You have all of these inner desires to express yourself with that splash of bright color on your walls, and they are ~GASP~ white! In fact your whole house is white.. What’s a resourceful decorator at heart to do? Don’t fret! You can do so much these days with just a little bit of know how, some thrift shopping savvy, and a little help from me a renter extraordinaire for 20 years and counting.

Let’s start with the order of hardest to easiest.


Paint.. Usually it’s written into your lease that you can’t paint with out the landlord’s or owner’s permission. That’s not to say you aren’t allowed to paint, but the walls must be returned to their original state after you move out unless you want to kiss your deposit goodbye. You can always ask your landlord if you can paint and then return the walls to their original color, but if you plan on only living there a short time, this is quite a process. You may also just want to consider painting an accent wall, for just a splash of color behind your sofa, or bed in your bedroom to make certain pieces of furniture a focal point. Always remember to ask your landlords' permission before painting, just to be safe rather than sorry. Let them know your intentions and assure them that you aren’t going to paint any crazy colors that would be detectable if painted over. Also, prep goes a long way. Assure your landlord that you plan on taking every precaution not to splatter paint on any surface and cause any damage, and stick to that, if granted permission. If you are a novice painter, get a friend that knows what they are doing to help you, or take a free workshop at Home Depot before taking on the paint.



Temporary wallpaper.. This stuff was MADE for us gypsy renters! It looks like contact paper, and is totally temporary, so you just need to stick it to your wall and peel it off when you plan to move. As this product gains in popularity there are many more styles to choose from. Retailers such as Target (the cheapest spot to get it), Urban Outfitters, and Sherwin Williams all sell the temporary wallpaper at various price points. Again, as cost will be a factor you can do an accent wall with the paper and tie in other elements of colors with pillows and area rugs to make the space unique.


Rugs, pillows and painted furniture OH MY! For those of you hesitant about putting anything on your wall, you can still create a really cool effect with bold accessories, wall art, and of course pillows. Even spaces with white or neutral walls can still look vibrant with the right mix of elements. You can pick up used furniture at great prices at local thrift stores (more on that in a bit) and paint them bright bold colors to make them your own.


Small touches.. Like changing out the face plates on light switches, hardware on cabinets and even hanging your own light fixture are all things that you can do to change up your space without doing anything permanent. Just make sure you save and label all of the old hardware in a box and keep it somewhere safe so when you move out, you can put things as they were. Electrical work is not tricky if you just take a little time to figure it out. You tube has tons of videos on how to remove and install electrical fixtures. You can also buy swag lights at retailers like Ikea and Home Goods that plug right into the wall and hang from the ceiling on a hook.


Art work.. You can turn any plain space into a gallery in minutes. At some rentals you can not put holes in the wall, and 3M makes a solution for that with hanging tape that leaves no marks. This makes hanging easy, and move out even simpler when all you have to do is remove the tape from the wall and your walls looks like they did when you first moved in. Have a good level and a measuring tape for hanging. It’s not always easy to get it on the first try, so a bit of measuring will save you a headache and crooked pictures in the long run. You can pick up some amazing art work again, at thrift stores, and discount retailers like Ross, Home Goods, and Target.


 

 

Plants and flowers.. I'm nuts right now for succulents. and other dry arid loving varieties. Not only do I like the look of these plants, but they are hard as heck to kill, which is always a bonus for me as I was not blessed with my parents green thumb. You can pick up pallets of succulents and other inexpensive hardy plants at Wal-Mart for about 8 dollars (for 6 plants). A fun way to decorate with plants is by putting them in unusual containers, such as colorful pitchers, mason jars, and tea cups. One of my favorite temporary decorating ideas is to collect unusual bottles from thrifts and put them in your windowsill, mantel or on a table to create a cool focal point. Our surroundings are lush and full of really cool things to pluck and clip from the earth and transfer inside. Air ferns, and air plants are some of my favorites to bring inside and pop into a unique and colorful glass bottle.

 

 

When shopping for cheap furniture and décor, South Florida is your oyster my friends. I believe the abundant supply of goods comes from the transient nature of our area, combined with retirees who simply pass away and leave an amazing amount of cool furniture to charity. We are fortunate to have charities like Faith Farm and The Goodwill Clearance Center and Salvation Army to pick up awesome prices for virtually free on most days. Any one with an eye can scour these places and pick up a variety of styles that mesh cohesively with little to no effort. You can pick up a piece with good lines that made just need a coat of paint, or contemporary furniture that has simply been given away because someone has redecorated. And don’t forget to look for all things related to moving in. Plates, Glasses, Silverware, and Pots can all be picked up at thrift stores, flea markets and rummage sales for just a few bucks. The best part about paying next to nothing for these items is that you can re-decorate when ever you get the urge because you paid so little for your items originally.



 

 

Take a look at décor magazines and catalogs from your favorite retailers’. Stop into stores like Anthropologie, Z-Gallerie, Urban Outfitters, West Elm, and Home Goods for ideas, then recreate the look for cheap by shopping at thrift stores and discount retailers. You will be amazed at what you can do and what you can find with a little bit of patience and luck. Need more tips? Just reach out and I’d be happy to help! [email protected]

 

And as always finding your own rental nirvana is only a click way and we are here to help you with all of your rental and property management needs!

 

Happy Decorating!

AFFORDABLE HOUSING IN SOUTH FLORIDA BECOMING SCARCE

Posted on 19 May, 2015 at 16:05 Comments comments (0)

The South Florida Rental Market is on FIRE! Big changes are on the way for those of us who rent and quickly fading are the days of lots and lots of available properties at affordable prices. Read on to find out why the rental market has changed, what’s in store for the market in the future, and how to navigate finding an affordable rental like a pro.


Rent takes a bigger chunk of your paycheck in South Florida than almost anywhere in the nation, and the burden is getting heavier. Renters here, on average, spend 44 percent of their incomes for a place to live, far more than the national average of 30 percent, according to new data from Zillow.com, a home listing service.


South Florida's rent burden ranks third-highest in the country, on par with San Francisco, Zillow found. Only Los Angeles, where 48 percent of income goes to rent, and Sarasota (47 percent) rank higher.


Although rents have risen across the country, their bite in South Florida is growing more quickly. Ten years ago, renters here paid 34 percent of their income for rent, closer to the national average of 26 percent, according to Zillow, which derives its data from rental listings and sales of rental homes.


The rental burden in South Florida has climbed 29 percent since then, compared with 15 percent nationally. To complicate matters further the average income has stayed the same since 2011, adding to renters stress and inability to afford even minor increases in rent. Right now the rental market is also flooded with prior homeowners whose houses have gone into foreclosure, or people who have sold their home for a profit and are now renting in the interim in lieu of buying a new home.


Although I am fortunate to work for a property management company, it would still be impossible for me to find suitable affordable housing comparable to what I have now in my daughter's school district if I were to move. So what are the options for people like you and me looking in Palm Beach County for affordable rent?


The first is to be extremely proactive. It can be depressing, stressful, and seem hopeless at times to find something in your price range, but the good news is there are still rentals out there. Treat your search like a full time job. Scan local ads frequently on Craigslist. 3rd party websites like Zillow, Hotpads and Apartments.com have many listings, BUT these sites will pull from a company's website, and ads can take as long as 2-3 days to post to the internet, meaning by the time they reach you the consumer most units are stale and most likely those properties are already rented.


Secondly, find a good realtor! Realtors will have access to the Multiple Listing Service, which can cast a wider search net and get tenant specific information such as price range, size of housing, and search can be done by zip code. Additionally, many realtors know of properties that have not yet been advertised or properties that are coming up for rent soon, so they are a valuable resource in any renters search.


When contacting the realtor, have in mind the specifics of what you are looking for in a property prior to calling them, i.e. price range, area, when you want to move, if you have any pets, and how much you can put down, etc. (You can find links to the multiple listing service on our site,  and we have agents here waiting to serve you, so call us first!)


Third, I suggest a grass roots approach to your search and actually get out there and drive, bike, or walk in your area of interest. Many times older people have places for rent and are not internet savvy, so they simply place a sign in the yard and wait for interested parties to call. That's how I found my place. Pure drive-by, phone call, and I had the keys in hand by the end of the week. I often bike around my neighborhood and see for rent signs in windows, or placed in the yard. Many of these rentals are not advertised, and there are still deals to be had in renting from a private owner.


Since the market is only going to get more saturated with renters and affordable housing will become fewer and farther between I can't stress enough that you CAN NOT wait if you see something that you are interested in. Be proactive, and be the early bird. Be ready to put down a deposit, and fill out application as soon as you find a place that you like. The days of kicking the tires and taking your time to make a long decision are gone. This is not to say that you should jump into something that you are unsure of, but do your homework, and get as much information as you can before viewing the property and be ready to ACT! If you see a good deal, chances are there are 6 other qualified applicants behind you waiting for the exact same opportunity. Again, don’t hesitate to reach out to us! We have qualified agents ready and waiting to help you with all of your residential property needs! Good luck in your search!




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