Can the landlord do this?
November 1, 2017 3:21 PM   Subscribe

Landlord just gave notice they plan to raise our rent by $100 next month. We are also required to give 30 days' notice if we plan to move or we forfeit our deposit. Can they do this?

Additional details:

We rent month to month after completing a lease. They informed my spouse over the phone that they would wait until January to raise our rent because we had roofing nails littering our yard for several weeks rendering it unusable and unsafe. So wife landlord told my husband that the compromise that she came up with with her own husband was to wait until January to raise the rent.

I don't know where to go to find out what's legal here or if we can do anything about it. Seems to me they have set it up to be impossible to get our deposit back, per previous agreements. That can't be legal right?

We might be moving soon so renting with a lease elsewhere would be problematic. I also don't want to do anything that would flag me as a bad tenant in the future. I pay on time, I don't make unreasonable requests.
posted by crunchy potato to Home & Garden (17 answers total)
This is Florida.
posted by crunchy potato at 3:24 PM on November 1, 2017

Have they given a reason for the rent increase?
posted by thereemix at 3:29 PM on November 1, 2017

If you're on a month-to-month with nothing signed that describes the rental increase process then this seem perfectly reasonable. Why wouldn't it be? That's what month-to-month means.
posted by humboldt32 at 3:31 PM on November 1, 2017 [16 favorites]

So there are two separate questions here, right?

1) what are the laws around rent increase notifications
2) what are the laws around them keeping your deposit, and can that relate to a notice period?

For 1, check your lease, but Florida has no law about this. From what I read, landlords are required to give you 15 days to terminate a month-to-month lease, so there is some assumption that they must give you at least 15 days notice. It sounds like they've given you 60 days notice. It's possible your local jurisdiction has more specific rules about this but it's unlikely to be longer than 60 days anywhere, so yes, this part seems totally legal and fine.

Question 2 is different, still looking into it.
posted by brainmouse at 3:32 PM on November 1, 2017 [1 favorite]

Because they want to. They raised it $50 per month in April. Now they want to raise it $100. No reason except that they say rent has been low at this property.
posted by crunchy potato at 3:33 PM on November 1, 2017

brainmouse they have given 30 days notice. They want to raise it effective December 1. I have no problem with raising it 60 days because we can still find other housing and give the notice required to get our deposit back that way.
posted by crunchy potato at 3:34 PM on November 1, 2017

I'm confused - your original question says they will wait until January. Either way though, the law only requires 15 days notice.
posted by brainmouse at 3:35 PM on November 1, 2017 [3 favorites]

Ok, for terminating a month-to-month lease you are only required to give 15 days (from the end of a rent cycle - not from an arbitrary day), and deposit returns require an itemized cost list, so they can't withhold for that. That said, you may have to take them to small claims court and whatnot to recoup that (and/or get a lawyer to write a nastygram).
posted by brainmouse at 3:46 PM on November 1, 2017 [6 favorites]

Note that the legal requirement is typically that you be given the notice IN WRITING.
posted by srboisvert at 4:33 PM on November 1, 2017 [3 favorites]

I actually don't see anything in the FL law requiring that a deposit may be withheld only for damages as opposed to other violations of the lease. However, the law specifically authorizing liquidated damages in a residential lease if the tenant agrees to such a provision and then doesn't give the required notice applies only to leases of specific duration, not "tenancies without specific term" like month-to-months. (It also requires that such notice provisions be reciprocal--that is, the landlord has to notify the tenant within the same period of nonrenewal.) This is secs. 83.57 and 83.575.

While the previous lease may have had such a provision, and, ordinarily, provisions in a lease continue to apply if it expires and converts to month to month, this would be a case where the statute does not authorize leases not of a specific duration to contain such a provision. So there's a good argument here that that particular term cannot continue to be enforceable. If there was no reciprocity in the notice requirement (note that renewing the lease at a higher rent is still renewal), then there's an even better one, because it wouldn't fall under the statute even for leases of a specific duration.

That said, I am NOT an expert. The case law may interpret the statute differently. And you may have to fight your landlord for the money in small claims court.

Next time, please read your lease with care. You seem to have agreed to let the landlord raise your rent with 15 days' notice and charge you your entire security deposit if you don't give a full 30 days' notice before moving out. That was less than ideal because of this very scenario. You can agree to a lot of stuff in a lease that doesn't seem fair, especially if you happen to live, as you do, in a state that quite openly thinks it's more important to make corporations rich than to look after its citizens.
posted by praemunire at 5:01 PM on November 1, 2017 [5 favorites]

charge you your entire security deposit if you don't give a full 30 days' notice before moving out

Just a data point: I think this stipulation has been the case in every apartment I've rented. 30 days has been standard.
posted by Miko at 5:36 PM on November 1, 2017 [4 favorites]

In state of California, security deposit is for damages only and may not be applied towards rent.

OP, you might want to check what is legal in your jurisdiction, despite whatever you have signed, this might not be enforceable by your landlord.
posted by jbenben at 6:50 PM on November 1, 2017 [1 favorite]

praemunire, there is no contract governing the month to month arrangement. There is nothing in our existing original lease that says they can raise our rent on 15 days' notice. But today on the 1st they told us effective December 1 the rent is being increased, despite previous assurance that it would not happen until January 1 because of the nails in the yard. And they refuse to discuss any concerns via text, preferring a phone call which is less actionable and so less ideal for me as the tenant.

I want to ask how often they expect to increase the rent and get that in writing at least, but one of the landlords is a bit of a bull and will probably see that as a challenge and respond by wanting to raise it $100 every month, if I point out that we have no agreement. I do not know how to go about getting any protection. The lease we have only covered the previous lease term. They informed my husband they plan to sell the house when we move, so they have no incentive to keep us here at this point.

So if I understand correctly, the ability to keep the deposit based on violation of lease terms cannot apply in a month to month agreement especially if they wanted 30 days' notice under the original agreement and refuse to give us time to find housing to comply with that. They would have to return the deposit less damages, and would need to furnish a list of repair costs.

Is there anything that could be done for the fact that they verbally promised to wait until January to raise the rent because we were unable to use our full property, and have just today gone back on that?

Thank you all. These responses have helped me greatly.
posted by crunchy potato at 6:53 PM on November 1, 2017

Is there anything that could be done for the fact that they verbally promised to wait until January to raise the rent because we were unable to use our full property, and have just today gone back on that?

This unfortunately tends to be more complicated to answer than you might think, due to something known as the "Statute of Frauds," which varies quite a bit from state to state. But, as a practical matter, proving an oral modification of the contract like this is difficult even if technically permitted under the law.

I can't say "cannot apply" with complete confidence because (a) I am not your lawyer and this is not legal advice; and (b) I have only looked at the statute. It is not exactly unheard of for courts to interpret seemingly clear statutory provisions in a way contrary to the "obvious" one. But it's worth trying.

That said, the remedy for not being exposed to monthly rent increases is to sign a contract with a longer specified term. I mean, I'm not trying to sound harsh here, but, whether it was voluntary or not, by not signing a renewal lease back when the old one lapsed and going to month to month, you forfeited virtually all the protection you had against rent increases. Tenant-favoring as I am, I can't honestly say that the fact that a monthly rent hike is always possible in these situations isn't apparent to people. The fact is, they could have you out (or at least terminate your legal right to possession) within a month anyway if they wanted to. That's how month-to-month works.
posted by praemunire at 7:25 PM on November 1, 2017 [4 favorites]

How month-to-month works is ONLY governed by the laws in your state and local jurisdiction, OP.

Call your state or city landlord tenant helpline, or visit their government websites. Also google the laws for your jurisdiction, likely someone has published a synopsis of your lical laws surrounding month-to-month tenancy somewhere.

In my jurisdiction, multi family dwelling renters have more protections than someone renting a private house, as an example for something to look out for during your search.

It will be easy info to find. Tesearch it yourself.
posted by jbenben at 9:28 PM on November 1, 2017 [2 favorites]

FWIW, there is a lot of case law in Florida that makes reading the statutes not sufficient to be fully apprised of your rights as a tenant. Just to pick one example, much of the limit on use of damage deposits are established by case law, not statute.

There are several half decent tenant rights explainers available on the Internet.

As far as your specific situation is concerned, I'm not a lawyer so this is just speculation based on my understanding of Florida law on the topic, absent a text from your landlord previously stating the increase was to happen in January, you're out of luck since they provided the required notice. If your lease had more favorable notice terms, they should probably continue to apply absent language to the contrary.

That said, if your only notice of the increase is verbal, you can certainly try to just pay the old amount for December. If you're definitely leaving anyway, they probably won't bother with eviction proceedings and they shouldn't be able to take the excess from your deposit. Worst case, they 3 day notice you and you pay or say screw it and deposit the $100 with the court and take it to trial if you have the spare time. Either way they can't evict you before the end of December assuming you don't tip your hand prior to November 16th or so.

You have my sympathies. I'm dealing with my own nutty landlord situation at the moment, but it involves literal screaming, insults, and even a frivolous call to the police, so look on the bright side, it could be a lot worse than an extra $100 a month.
posted by wierdo at 10:26 PM on November 1, 2017 [2 favorites]

More things to check: some states have a statute to the effect that tenants can't sign away legal rights as part of a lease. Eg., in my Canadian province, some landlords add a bunch of stuff to the standard form of lease that basically tries to rewrite the law on notice periods for move-out, evictions, etc. to be much more favorable to them. But according to our provincial law, none of that is enforceable.(*) So in your original lease period, the part you signed that upped the period for you giving notice to quit from 15 days to 30 days may or may not have been enforceable.

Next: the provisions of a lease are assumed to carry over once the original lease period has ended where I am. An original year lease converting to month-to-month is more common in states that I've lived in. Whether or not the extra details from the original lease carry over, or whether the month-to-month extension is assumed to follow just some standard pattern will depend both on Florida's actual law and on case law. And, as praemunire notes, may depend on the specific provisions.

Third is allowable uses of the security deposit. Some states allow landlords to charge nonrefundable application fees/deposits. Some don't. Sometimes these are allowed to also be the same as the security deposit. Other times there are stricter limits on the amount of such a nonrefundable fee, and the security deposit is the tenant's money, held in trust by the landlord, with a specific process that is supposed to be followed(*) for a landlord to take ownership of that money. In some states, tenants are specifically prohibited from using the security deposit as last month's rent. In other states, landlords can also keep a security deposit for unpaid rent as well as damages, and it's frowned upon but (so long as there are no damages that the security deposit could be applied against) there are basically no consequences for a tenant not paying their last month's rent and in exchange not troubling the landlord for the security deposit. As others above have noted, case law as well as actual law will affect this.

If the lease includes use of the yard, and the yard was indeed unusable for a period of time due to construction debris, and if Florida law follows implied warranty of habitability or similar framework, you may have a case for a proportional refund of part of your rent for that period. This is probably not worth following up on for its own sake, but may be a useful bargaining chip in coming to an agreement with your landlords about the security deposit without having to go through small claims court.

Overall, I recommend talking to a local tenant group or lawyer who is familiar with landlord-tenant law from the tenant side. You will get better and more specific advice than we can give you here. And a letter from a lawyer or from a tenant group on your behalf can often forestall any hassle in getting your security deposit back.

(* Theoretically. My local office that hears tenancy cases seems to be hopelessly corrupt and always finds in favor of the landlord. But we also have this alternate process run by "mediators" without legal training (or mediation training, as far as I can tell) in an attempt to keep tenancy disputes out of small claims court. Anyway, that part won't apply to you, but there are local variations in how laws get applied. Not all of which would necessarily stand up to legal scrutinity, but the cost to any one tenant of appealing a small claims court or other ruling tends to be prohibitive, so.)
posted by eviemath at 6:07 AM on November 2, 2017 [1 favorite]

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