Know your rights as a renter in Miami

These are tough times to be a renter in South Florida. Neighborhoods throughout Miami’s “urban core” are rapidly developing. Properties are changing management, rents are going up, and landlords and developers are evicting tenants to build anew, as was the case in Little Farm and Coconut Grove.

We spoke to Alana Greer of Community Justice Project, a nonprofit law firm that has represented a slew of clients fighting to hold on to their homes, to get a rundown of what renters need to know.

Florida is the second worst state in the country in terms of protection for renters, based on a comparative research study by Attorney Jeffrey Hearne from Legal Services of Greater Miami. Judges tend to side with the landlord or property owner if a case goes to court, even if tenants have a record of paying rent and good behavior. Why? Because the law is set up that way — and it’s largely decided in Tallahassee, not locally, where their dealing with the issues firsthand.

“Even then, they can’t do it because of the landlord lobby in Tallahassee, that’s why they have great laws for landlords, not for tenants,” she says. “That’s why you can wipe out a community like Wynwood or Overtown in a blink of an eye — because of these housing laws.”

These state laws are the seeds of gentrification and the root of Miami’s affordable housing crisis.

But “there’s always room for fighting back,” says Greer. Tenants do have some protection under the law. Here’s a roundup of laws regarding rental agreements to better arm yourself against changes coming to your neighborhood.

  1. Always make sure to have a written lease agreement. If you have a written lease,you’ll have more protection.
  2.  Landlords need to send eviction notices 15 days before your next rent due date. If they do that properly, you have to leave at the beginning of rental period (if you’re like most people and you pay at the start of the month, that means you have to be notified by mid-month). If not, you can take the landlord or property management company to court.
  3. In Florida, if a landlord wants to triple your rent, they can do this — as long as it’s before 15 days of the next time your rent is due.
  4. A landlord can’t evict residents, increase rent, or decrease services just because you’re organizing or complaining or calling the City Office. This protection from retaliation is one of the few protections in Florida law for renters. If you decide to take your case to eviction court, pay your rent to the court, not the landlord or property management company. A vast majority of cases never see a judge, because of technicalities that cause a judge to throw out the case, but this is one of the only ways to ensure you actually do.
  5. State law requires tenants to post any alleged unpaid rents to the court registry before they can see a judge. If they don’t do that within five days of an eviction being filed, the landlord wins without any hearing in front of a judge, regardless of what other arguments they might have.
  6. You cannot be turned away for race, religion, age (some exceptions like in retirement communities), family size, or sexual orientation.
  7. Landlords cannot reject renters because they are using Section 8 vouchers. These allow select tenants to pay only 30 percent of their income at any rental unit in Miami. The federal government covers the difference.

If you want to pursue a legal case, here is a list of organizations who can help:

Community Justice Project: 8325 NE 2nd Ave #117, Miami, FL 33138, (305) 907-7697 [email protected]
Legal Services of Greater Miami: 3000 Biscayne Blvd #500, Miami, FL 33137, (305) 576-0080
Dade Legal Aid: 23 NW 1st Ave #214, Miami, FL 33128, 305-579-5733