You gave your Landlord a security deposit before you moved in. You’re ready to (or already did) move out. Now, your Landlord has informed you that he or she is keeping part or all of the security deposit. What might you do?
This is a fairly common occurrence in leasehold situations. Fortunately, the Florida Legislature has repeatedly addressed this issue, and within the Florida Statutes is the Florida Residential Landlord Tenant Act (Chapter 83-49), which addresses Security Deposit issues directly.
First, you should be aware of the required procedures for Security Deposits in Florida found in Florida Statute 83.49(3). When the Tenant vacates the property at the conclusion of his or her Lease, there are separate procedures based on whether the Landlord intends to impose a claim against the Security Deposit. If the Landlord does not intend to assess a claim, the Landlord must return the Security Deposit to the Tenant within 15 days.
If, however, the Landlord does intend to impose a claim, the Landlord first must provide notice to the Tenant, via certified mail to the Tenant’s last known mailing address, within 30 days of the Tenant vacating the property. This notice must include language substantially similar to the following:
This is a notice to impose a claim of $___ upon your Security Deposit because ____________, as required by Florida Statute 83.49(3). You must object in writing to this claim within 15 days from the day you receive this notice by sending your written objection to (Landlord’s address). If you do not, I will be authorized to deduct my claim from your Security Deposit.
If the Landlord does not follow these requirements, the Landlord forfeits his or her rights to the Security Deposit; however, although the Landlord has forfeited his or her rights to the Security Deposit, the Landlord can still, after releasing to the Tenant the Security Deposit, file a lawsuit against the Tenant for damages.
One other note- except when otherwise provided in the Lease, if the Tenant vacates or abandons the premises before the expiration of the Lease, the Tenant must give at least seven days written notice (via personal delivery or certified mail) before he or she vacates, providing the Landlord with the new address where Tenant can be reached. If a prematurely vacating Tenant does not do this, the Landlord does not have to follow the notice requirements specified above. However, the prematurely vacating Tenant’s failure to give notice in this manner does not waive his or her rights to all or part of the Security Deposit.
If Landlord does, within the 30-day period, properly notify the Tenant that Landlord intends to impose a claim against some or all of the Security Deposit, the Tenant then has 15 days to let the Landlord know that he or she objects to the Landlord’s claim. If the Tenant does not do this within 15 days, the Landlord is free to deduct the amount of his or her claim and release the balance to the Tenant. However, the Tenant likewise may subsequently bring a lawsuit for damages against the Landlord if the Tenant misses this 15-day window.
A Tenant should pay close attention to the Florida Statutes and ensure all requirements were followed- Did the Landlord provide notice of imposing a claim on time? Did the notice contain the required language? Did you, as the Tenant, notify Landlord in writing that you object to the claim on the Security Deposit?
Suppose the Tenant has good reason to believe all or part of the Security Deposit has been wrongly withheld by the Landlord, because of the Landlord’s failure to follow the requirements discussed here or for other reasons. In that case, the Tenant may want to pursue a remedy through the courts. Florida Statute 83.49(3)(c) states that a prevailing party in a lawsuit to determine the rights to a Security Deposit is entitled to receive court costs and a reasonable attorney’s fee from the other party. Consulting an attorney when considering instituting legal action is always advisable.
If you think you have been deprived of your rights to a Security Deposit, please contact Siegel & Siegel at 561-620-8200. We look forward to helping you.