The relationship between a tenant and a landlord is, in some ways, simple and straightforward. The tenant pays an agreed-upon amount of rent to the landlord. In return, the landlord provides the tenant with the right to possess and live in a piece of real estate that they own.

Despite how it may seem simple on the surface, there are many nuances and rules that apply to rental relationships, especially when it comes to space that someone uses as their primary residence. For example, there are restrictions on security deposits and how the landlord can use them, as well as how soon they must return the balance of the deposit after the tenant leaves.

Can tenants ever legally not pay rent?

Generally speaking, for residential rentals, the landlord is the one who has the responsibility to maintain the facilities in a safe and habitable manner. Landlords depend on the rent from their tenants in order to maintain the facilities in which the tenants live.

In some circumstances, when the landlord and the tenants don’t agree about certain repairs or maintenance, the tenant may attempt to withhold rent. However, there are only certain circumstances in which it is legal to do so.

When a landlord has failed to make necessary repairs for maintenance

Florida state law is clear that tenants have the right to a safe and habitable property. A non-working furnace, a leaking roof or serious plumbing issues could all have major implications for the livability of a unit.

Generally speaking, tenants should bring such issues to the attention of their landlord as soon as possible, possibly via phone. If the landlord doesn’t respond in a timely matter, then the tenant may need to make a request in writing. If a landlord does not address the tenant’s concerns or make the necessary repairs, the tenant can, in theory, withhold rent either to compel the landlord to take action or to cover the costs of hiring professionals to do the work.

Tenants can’t refuse to pay

Tenants who want to withhold rent in order to compel maintenance or repairs or to cover the cost for maintenance and repairs must do so very carefully. Typically, they need to deposit the funds into an escrow account at least by the date that rent is due from the tenant. That money then should not move from that account until either they resolve the issue or the tenant makes a withdrawal from the account to pay for services.

Adequate documentation can protect a tenant from eviction or other enforcement action from their landlord. Those who don’t follow the process properly can wind up evicted or facing other consequences.