Renter vs. Landlord: What are your rights?

Posted at 10:41 AM, Jun 03, 2016
and last updated 2016-06-03 10:41:54-04

Carl Divine runs a nonprofit organization that helps homeless veterans, but their living conditions haven't been livable.

"For the last year it's been getting worse and worse and worse." Divine said.

His landlord refuses to fix things, Divine said, like a leaky roof, missing ceiling parts, leaks and mold, and areas that even flood.

"I just have to fight with him to do anything" Divine said.

He called St. Pete Code Enforcement. They documented several problems, including structure issues, holes and even unsound floors. Divine said the problems still exist.

He's had enough. So he stopped paying the rent and now he's getting evicted.

"I really feel helpless. Who do you turn to when these type of situations go on?" Divine said. 

Some turn to lawyers like Scott Bonavita, who says what Divine did by stopping the rent is a common mistake.

He says the first step is to write a seven-day letter and send it by certified mail to your landlord. The landlord has seven days to respond.

"Also in that letter you should indicate what your intentions are if the landlord doesn't rectify the issues," Bonavita said.

Scott said that's where you can state you will hold the rent check if the problems are not resolved.

"You can as long as it's in the letter that you sent to them and you identified that that's what your intention is to do," Bonavita said.

The landlord may then send an eviction notice. If that happens, Bonavita said to call an attorney.

If you can't afford one, ask the attorney to set up a "contingency fee basis" so if you lose in court it doesn't cost you.

"If they're not successful, the renter is not responsible for any attorneys fees and costs," Bonavita said.

Scott adds if your case is strong enough you should be able to get an attorney to take your case.

To strengthen that case, take pictures and video to document your issues.