5 Most Common Mistakes Made By Landlords (And How To Avoid Them)
By Cody McCaughan, Esq.
Pitfalls to avoid when dealing with your Tenants
Being a landlord can be incredibly frustrating when dealing with a problem tenant. Below are 5 mistakes to avoid so that if a problems arises, you are in the best position to resolve it.
1. Failing to Immediately Serve Tenant with a Three Day Notice to Pay Rent or Vacate
The eviction process is slow and cumbersome. Every day that a tenant resides in your property without paying rent you are losing money. While the tenant is still liable for missed rent payments even after they have been evicted, the reality is that the tenant is likely broke, so you will not be able to collect what you are owed.
Accordingly, it is imperative that a Three Day Notice to Pay Rent or Vacate is served on the tenant as soon as possible after a missed rent payment. Understand that from the day a Three Day Notice is served, you are looking at a best case scenario of 45 to 60 days until a Final Judgment of Eviction can be obtained and the Sheriff can return the property to your possession. Do not further prolong the process by waiting a week or more before serving a Three Day Notice. Remember, you can stop the eviction process anytime if the tenant pays their rent or a settlement is reached, but there is no way to speed up an eviction process that was not started when it should have been.
2. Attempting to Evict a Tenant Yourself
With the wealth of information available on the internet and evictions forms published by local municipalities, many capable and intelligent landlords and property managers attempt to perform their own evictions. This is a mistake. I cannot stress enough the importance of hiring an attorney to evict a tenant. Almost every nightmare eviction story that I have been involved with began with a landlord attempting to evict without counsel, or relying on a property manager or broker to file an eviction. The upfront cost of an attorney is minimal compared to the liability you face from a botched eviction action. An attorney will do it right, and get it done faster, saving you funds in loss rental income. Remember that if your eviction is dismissed, you will be liable for any attorney’s fees and costs incurred by the tenant. Don’t take the chance, get an attorney.
3. Agreeing to Early Termination/Liquidated Damages Addendum in Lease
An early termination/liquidated damages addendum provides that if the tenant breaks the lease before it expires, the tenant is liable for a fixed amount of rent, usually 2 months, but no more. This addendum is very common in Florida residential leases and it generally favors the tenant. Without the addendum, if a tenant breaks the lease early, the tenant is liable for rent for every month until the end of the lease, or until the landlord finds a new tenant. Because the tenant’s liability is not capped at 2 months’ rent, the landlord has a lot more leverage over the tenant, which is helpful for negotiating a favorable resolution of the dispute.
If a tenant insists on an early termination addendum, it is okay to agree to it, as it is probably not worth losing a paying tenant over. However, if the tenant does not ask or insist on the addendum, you would be best advised to not include it.
4. Failing to Send Security Deposit Claim Letter
If you intend to make a claim against your tenant’s security deposit, you must send written notice to the tenant’s last know address within 30 days of the date the tenant vacates the property. A text message or email will not suffice, it must be a written letter sent via U.S. Certified Mail. If you fail to send the letter, or send a letter which is defective, then you are not authorized to retain any portion of the security deposit. At that point, if the tenant sues you for return of the deposit, you will lose, you will have to return the deposit, and you will likely be liable for the tenant’s attorney’s fees. If you fail to send the letter, you can still sue the tenant for rent owed, damages to the property, etc., but you will have to return the security deposit first.
The requirements for making a claim against a tenant’s deposit are outlined in Chapter 83, Florida Statutes. If you are concerned about complying with the statute, or if you plan to make a large claim against a tenant, you should consult with an attorney before doing so.
5. Ignoring Issues with the Condition of the Leased Property
No property is perfect, and no landlord is expected to keep their property in perfect condition for a tenant. However, ignoring condition issues with the property can get you into a lot of trouble. Review your lease, the obligations you have to maintain and repair your property are set out in detail in most standard form leases. If the tenant makes reasonable complaints, address them quickly and properly. Keep records of everything to protect yourself in the event of litigation. If you receive a 7 Day Notice to Terminate the Lease, or the tenant withholds rent, contact an attorney immediately.
We specialize in representing both commercial and residential landlords in all aspects of leasing, from drafting and negotiation to litigation and disputes. If you are looking for advice on avoiding future problems, or are already dealing with a dispute, contact us at (305) 928-4190 for a no-charge consultation.