TENANTS RIGHTS: Tips for renters when landlords don't fix problems


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    When you look for an apartment, safety, location and price are typically on the top of the list.

    But once you sign the lease some surprises might show up.

    “So when it rains I have to take a can and place it under [the wall] because the way the leak is happening it’s going in between the concrete,” says tenant Amanda Scalfaro.

    Scalfaro moved to Gainesville less than a year ago, coming from Ohio, she says she didn’t have enough time to look for apartments—and quickly signed for one in Northwest Gainesville.

    But in November, just a few months after moving in, she noticed a leak coming from her guestroom closet—that made its way onto the carpet.

    “Between the coughing, the watery eyes and the sneezing I definitely noticed there is more of it since this issue has started with the leak,” says Scalfaro.

    Two months after she reported the leak – she says the situation only got worse.

    “Between the smell, having to take care of that, not having an AC unitit’s very tiresome and the communication [with the landlord] has been slim,” says Scalfaro.

    Turns out, she’s not alone.

    I went to Three Rivers Legal Services in Gainesville, where attorney Mikel Bradley says more than half of their cases are tenant vs landlord repairs.

    “We are talking about roof leaks, we are talking about plumbing issues, electrical issues,” says Bradley.

    While legal action is one option, it could also be a job for code enforcement.

    “We get several calls a day,” says Diana Osborn, Alachua County Code Enforcement Officer.

    Osborne says tenants ranging from students, to the elderly, have all needed serious repairs on their rentals.

    “We always take the complaint, we will never say no we cannot inspect,” says Osborn.

    If you are having trouble getting your property manager to fix things, here are some tips from the experts:

    “Be cordial, but be direct with what you’re asking to be done,” says Bradley.

    Bradley also says if something needs repair, everything needs to be documented.

    “Before you talk to me, make sure you have made it known that you want a repair affected,” says Bradley.

    She says to send an email, stating what needs to be fixed, and give them seven days to fix it.

    If the landlord neglects the repair, you can contact Alachua County Code Enforcement, where they can inspect the property, and potentially fine the landlord.

    But Osborn says, many issues in apartments are broken even before a tenant has moved in.

    “The day before they move in, that tenant has the right to go in before they start moving anything and make sure everything is working,” says Osborn.

    And a common mistake is:

    “Do not withhold your rent without going through the proper procedure,” says Bradley.

    As for Scalfaro, her roof was fixed last week after calling code enforcement.

    She says she still has a hole in her wall and a musty carpet but code enforcement says they’ll re-inspect the apartment soon.

    For more information on contacting code enforcement, click here.

    For information on Three Rivers Legal services, click here.

    For Florida Statues on Landlord vs. Tenant Law Chapter 83, click here.

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