By: Zachary H. Brown
Landlords can be put into precarious situations upon a breach by a tenant. Normally the contract, or lease agreement, signed by the landlord and tenant will spell out what constitutes a breach, and what remedies may be available to the landlord in the event a lease is terminated. This article will serve as a basic overview of what remedies are available to landlords when structuring residential leases.
A landlord must be cautious to only exercise the remedies that are available to it upon termination of the lease. A lease is terminated when the tenant has breached, abandoned, or renounced the lease before the expiration of the term of the agreement. It is important to know how and when a lease is terminated, what the proper notice requirements are, and if the tenant has effectuated a cure. Lease terminations are strictly governed by the contract and Florida Statutes.
Once the lease has been terminated, the landlord usually has a variety of options it can pursue when deciding on a proper remedy. It is important to note that if the lease agreement dictates what path the landlord must take, then the landlord will be bound to that contractual provision. Common landlord remedies are: (a) treat the lease as terminated and retake possession of the dwelling unit, thereby terminating any further liability of the tenant; (b) retake possession of the dwelling unit for the account of the tenant, holding the tenant liable for the difference between the rent stipulated to be paid under the lease agreement and what the landlord is able to recover from reletting the premises; (c) do nothing and hold the tenant liable as the rent comes due; or, (d) charge liquidated damages or an early termination fee to the tenant, as provided by a provision in the lease agreement.
If the landlord chooses to retake possession of the dwelling unit for the account of the tenant (option (b) above), the landlord has a duty to exercise good faith when he or she attempts to relet the premises. Any rent the landlord receives after reletting the premises will be deducted from the balance of rent due from the tenant.
Landlords also must be careful not to take any action that may be considered a waiver of one of the available remedies. Florida courts have held that a landlord’s failure to exercise a remedy option available to it under a lease will constitute a waiver. For example, this is most commonly seen when a landlord accepts rent payments from a tenant after a lease has already been terminated.
Lastly, by statute
in any civil action to enforce the provisions of a lease,
Florida law dictates that the party in whose favor a
judgment or decree has been rendered may recover reasonable attorney’s fees and
court costs from the non-prevailing party. So, if a landlord is forced to take
a tenant to court over the issue of a proper remedy, the landlord will recover
attorney’s fees if it is successful in its lawsuit.
Electing a proper remedy for landlords can be a complicated issue. If you’re a landlord and have experienced what you think may be a tenant breach, or outright termination of a lease, it is probably best to consult with a local attorney about the best option you can pursue moving forward.
Zach Brown is an attorney with the law firm Clark, Campbell, Lancaster & Munson, P.A. in Lakeland. Questions can be submitted to firstname.lastname@example.org.