When Does A Landlord-Tenant Relationship Exist Under Florida Law?
Florida law provides various protections for both landlords and tenants in a rental relationship. Of course, this assumes a landlord-tenant relationship exists in the first place. In most cases, this is easy enough to prove–a landlord signs a written lease with the tenant. But there are situations where the existence of a landlord-tenant relationship may itself be unclear or open to interpretation.
Court Finds Oral Agreement Sufficient to Create Sublease
A recent decision from the Florida Fourth District Court of Appeals–Powers v. Whitcraft–provides a helpful illustration. In this case, the parties disputed whether they had entered into a valid landlord-tenant relationship. A county court judge thought there was no such relationship. The appellate court decided there was.
Here is some background on the case. The plaintiff had placed an ad on Craigslist seeking to rent a room for herself and her teenage daughter. The defendant responded to the ad. He was currently living in a house that he was renting from a third party. The parties orally agreed that the plaintiff would pay the defendant $600 per month plus one-half of the utilities for the house.
A few days after moving in, however, the plaintiff accused the defendant “of acting inappropriately towards her daughter, resulting in the police being called to the house,” according to the Fourth District’s opinion. As a result the defendant demanded the police remove the plaintiff and her daughter from the property. When the police refused, the defendant moved out of the house.
About a week later, the defendant had the utilities to the house shut off. He also placed locks on the electricity and water boxes to prevent the plaintiff from accessing them. Once again, the police were called and they allowed the locks to be cut. Although service was temporarily restored, the defendant cut off the utilities a few days later.
The plaintiff eventually sued the defendant. Under Florida law, a landlord may not cut off utilities to a tenant. If the landlord violates this law, the tenant can seek monetary damages.
As noted above, the real issue here was whether a landlord-tenant relationship existed. The county court said the evidence “failed to establish that these parties had any meeting of the minds or ever agreed to a landlord-tenant relationship.” At best, the county court thought this was a roommate relationship. And since the utilities were in the defendant’s name, he was entitled to terminate service when he moved to a new residence.
The Fourth District saw things differently. It found there was a binding oral sublease agreement between the defendant and the plaintiff. The same laws that apply to property owners also apply to lessors, the Court explained. And even though the defendant continued to live on the property, he nevertheless sublet a portion of that property–i.e., the room–to the plaintiff, making him her landlord. The Fourth District therefore returned the case to the county court to determine whether the defendant actually broke the law when he cut off utilities to the plaintiff.
Speak with a Florida Landlord-Tenant Attorney Today
Many landlord-tenant disputes can be avoided through the careful drafting of a proper written lease. If you need advice on this or any related subject from an experienced Brandenton landlord-tenant lawyer, contact Moran, Sanchy & Associates today to schedule a consultation.