What are the steps in Florida for uninhabitable living situation in Florida? I have educated my landlord that our heater is not working and it is has been cold in Florida. Below 65

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What are the steps in Florida for uninhabitable living situation in Florida? I have educated my landlord that our heater is not working and it is has been cold in Florida. Below 65

I have reached out to my landlord and educated him about the issue, No heat, via text message and in person. He has stated verbally to my husband and I that he would come fix the problem and via text message. He came 2 days later after I basically begged him to come fix the heater as the temperature was dropping and we are literally freezing in our home. He stated that he would need to replace the regulator and that was last night, 1/04/2017. We have reached out to him today and he has not contacted us and let us know any further information. He often goes weeks without replying We have call history and text messages. We are really seeking all advice. It is so cold at night and we have had to go out and purchase a heater to keep a little warm. He did not answer and does not keep in touch. We are now having issues as it rained and there are 2 leaks in the roof but can’t reach him to inform him of this information. We do not want to move but feel that this is the only way we would be able to live comfortably. What should we do?

Asked on January 5, 2017 under Real Estate Law, Florida

Answers:

SJZ, Member, New York Bar / FreeAdvice Contributing Attorney

Answered 4 years ago | Contributor

There are several options, but none are that good, because all could lead to litigation if your landlord does not accept what you do. First, to frame matters: the law imposes a "implied warranty of habitability" on all leases--an obligation that the rental premises be fit for their intended usage (e.g. residence). Issues that significantly impact habitability (like a lack of heat; major leaks) can violate that warranty; a violation of the warranty is treated essentially like a breach of the explicit written terms of the lease.
In terms of what you can do--and the potential downsides:
1) Constructive eviction: you can potentially consider the lease terminated by  landlord's violation of the warranty of habitability (a material, or important, breach of a lease or contract by one party allows the other party to treat it as terminated) and move out. But if the landlord refuses to acknowledge that moving out was justified, he may try to sue you for the remaining rent due under the lease; and unfortunately, the whole notion of "habitability" is a subjective one--while many judges would consider a lack of heat grounds to terminate a lease, it's not impossible that you'd find one (especially in FL, where heat is less of any issue than in many other states) who thinks that the unit was habitable despite the issues you describe and holds you to the lease. So there is a risk of still having to pay under the lease after you move out.
2) Without rent: you can also refuse to pay rent until the landlord fixes the problem. If the landlord tries to evict you for nonpayment, you would then raise the habitability problems as a justification. If the judge agrees, he could let you continue to withhold some or all of the rent until the repairs are made, and/or reduce your rent to reflect the impairment in value of the rental space during time the issues persist, until fixed. But again, judges vary in how they view issues like these: some would let you withhold all rent until fixed and reduce what you'd have to pay, after it was fixed, for the period of time you suffered; others would you require you to pay the rent in full immediately to avoid eviction; and/or anything in between.
("Withhold" means "hold onto," not "spend for other things"; even if a judge gives you some credit or abatement for the problems, you'll have to pay some, judicially determined, rent at some point. Hold onto the money, since you'll need it; don't spend the rent on other things.)
3) Repair and deduct: fix the problems yourself and take the cost out of your rent. But if the landlord disagrees, he may seek to evict for not paying the full rent, which throws the issue of whether your justified in doing this and what, if anything, you have to pay  to the court, where whatever judge you get will make a decision.
So you do have options, but because if the landlord challenges them, a judge has to make a subjective decision as to whether you were justified, they are not risk free.


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