Last Update: 10/3/17
Disputes between landlords and tenants are common here in Florida. Unfortunately, all too often Florida lawyers see good people living in a home, apartment, or condo having to deal with discourteous and disrespectful landlords who are solely concerned with their bottom line profit. These tenants have to deal with landlords who put the bare minimum into the management, repair, and maintenance of the property.
That lack of maintenance and management can result in all sorts of injuries: mold issues caused by water damage from plumbing problems or from windows or roof leaks; slip and falls from broken handrails or slick floors; fire from electrical problems; insects and rodents can infest the property, enticed there by sewage issues or garbage that hasn’t been properly removed. The failure to secure doors and windows can make the tenants vulnerable to crime, as well. All kinds of harm can come to a tenant who has a landlord who is failing to follow the law and protect his or her tenants.
Many tenants recognize that the terms of their lease agreement can protect them. However, breach of contract claims are not the only kind of legal recourse a Florida tenant has against a landlord, particularly where a tenant has been hurt because of the landlord’s failures perform his or her duties; Tenants may also have a premises liability claim against their landlord.
This article discusses the following aspects of the relationship between a residential tenant and a landlord under Florida law:
- Duties of the Landlord to the Tenant
- Duties of the Landlord to Tenant’s Guests and Others
- Injuries Caused by the Landlord’s Negligence
- Injuries Caused by Crime on the Property
Injured residential tenants in Florida, and others hurt on the property, are legally protected by Florida Statutes, including the Florida Residential Landlord and Tenant Act , and case law, both of which combine to make-up Florida’s premises liability law.
1. Duties of the Landlord to the Tenant
The Florida Legislature has passed a significant amount of laws protecting both commercial and residential tenants from harm – those laws are contained in Chapter 83 of the Florida Statutes.  The law is different for residential and commercial leases; Florida laws provide more protection to tenants who are renting a home than it does for those renting a business location.
Within Florida Statutes Chapter 83, is a specific series of laws that place legal duties upon landlords. Residential housing should be safe for you to live in. If you are hurt in your rented home, depending on the facts, it may be because your landlord violated a legal duty to you under Florida Landlord-Tenant law.
For instance, Florida statutes state that residential tenants should be protected (whether they are renting an apartment, a single family house, condominium unit, townhouse, duplex, etc.) by their landlords by requiring the landlords to do things like :
- Making sure that the property is current with all building, housing, and health codes (including keeping the property and furniture free of bedbugs and mold and disclosing the existence of lead paint or radon gas)
- Checking before the tenant moves into the property that things are in reasonable working condition and maintaining those items (such as floors, porches, and stairs, and making sure handrails and balconies are safe and secure and that they are able to handle normal weight loads, and are slip resistant, and the plumbing and electricity are in proper working order)
- Addressing concerns about animals owned by other tenants or who wander onto the premises
- Repair and maintain the property so that things are in good working order during the scope of the tenancy (like keeping the parking lot, hallways and stairwells well lit and making sure the windows close and lock properly)
As the Florida Supreme Court has explained, the landlord has a duty “to transfer a reasonably safe dwelling unit to the tenant [and] . . . to exercise reasonable care to repair dangerous, defective conditions upon notice of their existence by the tenant.”  Once the tenant moves into their home, the landlord has a continuing legal duty to exercise reasonable care to repair defective conditions – but the tenant must give the landlord notice that these repairs are needed. This is part of what Florida law terms the landlord’s statutory duty of habitability. 
2. Duties of the Landlord to the Tenant’s Guests
When an owner rents his or her property to a tenant, property that will become the tenant’s home or residence, Florida law imposes upon the owner certain legal duties regarding the care and upkeep of the property. These laws exist primarily to protect the tenant from slumlords who would otherwise take the monthly rents and allow the tenants to live in dangerous and unsafe conditions. However, these same legal duties placed upon the residential landlord also act to protect third parties who are injured by defects or conditions in and around the property.
In order for a tenant’s guest, or a visitor to the leased premises, to hold the landlord liable for injuries sustained while on the premises, they must be able to provide evidence that there was an omission or a failure of the landlord to perform one of a long list of a duties established under Florida law.  However, the landlord is not liable for every injury that comes to someone who ventures upon or about the tenant’s residence.
Florida landlords will be held responsible for the harm coming to a third person on the property only within the confines of the landlord’s ability to possess or control the condition that allegedly caused the injury to the guest or visitor.  The landlord does not have a greater legal responsibility to third parties who are injured on the property than the legal duties placed upon the landlord towards his or her tenant.
The landlord will only be held legally responsible for the harm done to a third person if the negligent condition which caused the injury is: (1) a violation of state or federal law; (2) a construction defect; or (3) something that was inherently dangerous (however, if the landlord has undertaken the responsibility of certain repairs then they still may be responsible for any harm caused to a third party). If any of these three conditions are the cause of the injury, then the landlord’s duty to a third person for the failure of the condition is the same as it is to that of his or her duty to a tenant. 
3. Injuries Caused by the Landlord’s Negligence or Caused by Someone Hired by the Landlord
When a landlord repairs, maintains, or improves a leased residence in Florida, then legally the landlord must do so with “reasonable care” even if the landlord is doing something to be nice and isn’t required to take action under the lease or by law.  For instance, a landlord who wants to upgrade the tenant’s outdoor light fixtures to ones with a more modern design will be liable for anyone who is hurt by that light fixture not working properly no matter how gracious the landlord’s intent was in making the change.
Under Florida law, a residential landlord will be legally responsible for any injuries caused by the negligence of either the landlord or someone hired to do the job by the landlord which leaves the residence in an unsafe condition.  For example, if a landlord replaces a ceiling fan in a tenant’s living room, or hires someone to do the job, and two weeks later that ceiling fan falls on the tenant or the tenant’s dinner guest, then the landlord will be legally liable for the injuries suffered from the falling ceiling fan (which Florida law will deem a “dangerous condition” that was created by the landlord). 
4. Injuries Caused by Crime on the Property
As a general rule, landlords are not held legally responsible for criminal acts that happen on their leased residential property.  This is true both for tenants and for third parties who are hurt during the commission of or a criminal act at the leased residence.  Florida law will not hold a Florida landlord legally responsible for a criminal act that was unexpected.
There are exceptions to this general rule, of course. In Florida, residential landlords are legally responsible for the harm that results from “reasonably foreseeable criminal conduct” because under the law, if the landlord could predict or believe it is likely that the tenant or other invited guest might be a victim of crime, they will be held liable for those injuries. 
The big question in these cases becomes whether or not the criminal act was “foreseeable” by the landlord. If the tenant or third party was hurt by a criminal committing a crime, then they must be able to provide evidence that their injuries were reasonably foreseeable by the landlord. Each case is different in determining how this can be proven.
For example, when is rape, assault or robbery of a tenant, or other invited guest, who is parking his or her car in the garage, reasonably foreseeable by the landlord? The answer depends upon many factors. The tenant or invited guest will need to gather evidence of things like:
- similar crimes taking place in the neighborhood that the landlord knew or should have known about;
- there have been suspicious people hanging around the property that the tenant warned the landlord about;
- security gates are not working or are damaged, or the area where the crime occurred is easier to access by wrongdoers because of design flaws in the security being provided.
The courts and juries will focus on the landlord’ s knowledge of other criminal conduct on the premises in determining liability here. They will compare the crime that caused the victim’s injuries, to similar types of crimes, or even lesser crimes, that may suggest that criminals are doing bad things in and around the premises. 
In some instances, foreseeability may not be the main issue. The Florida Residential Landlord and Tenant Act includes a list of landlord responsibilities. The courts look to the statutory language of the Act itself which defines specific duties of the landlord, like providing “locks and keys” to the tenant, keeping the parking lot, hallways and stairwells well lit, making sure the windows close and lock properly and keeping the residential common areas in a “safe condition” to determine if the landlord breached its duty to the tenant or other invited guest.  Additionally, a landlord may need to perform a background check on all tenants and employees and, in some instances, hire full time or part time security.
In those cases where the duties defined under the Florida Residential Landlord and Tenant Act are breached by the landlord, and a tenant is injured because of a criminal act on the property, the tenant likely does not need to gather evidence of the “foreseeability” of the crime taking place. Meaning, evidence of the landlord’s knowledge of prior criminal acts committed on the premises will not be needed, as a matter of law, in order for the landlord to be held liable for the victim’s injuries. 
This is especially true in violent crimes that involve someone coming onto the property and committing a criminal act against a tenant or a third party. One of the clear purposes of Florida residential tenant law is to protect tenants from these sorts of injuries, and if the landlord breaches a legal duty which allows a criminal to enter the premises, then the landlord will be held legally accountable.
In cases of a violent attack, especially, the landlord will be held responsible if he or she is shown to have knowledge of similar criminal conduct in the neighborhood surrounding the tenant’s home. For example, apartment tenants can hold their landlords to be responsible for knowing the criminal activity in the area surrounding their apartment complex and requiring the landlord to take necessary security steps to keep the tenants safe from these kinds of criminal acts.
The bottom line is that Florida Landlords must take all reasonable precautions to protect their tenants from criminal harm by knowing what security measures are available for the residences, and providing them. 
In Florida, when a tenant or third person is hurt on leased premises, the landlord can be held legally responsible for their injuries. While most tenants may look to their lease agreements to determine what their contract rights are after someone has been hurt, they may not know about the volume of Florida law on the books designed to help them. Lease language may or may not apply to injuries that happen at a tenant’s residence. However, tenants may still be able to hold landlords responsible under both court precedent and Florida statutory law.
All kinds of injuries may be involved here. From illness due to lead exposure resulting from a landlord’s failure to remediate, to an electrical burn from an improperly installed electrical outlet, or a broken arm or leg from a slip and fall, landlords are under a broad duty to protect their tenants and invited guests from injury and harm.
Of particular importance here is the liability of a Florida landlord to a tenant or third person who has been the victim of crime while on the leased premises. Here, a landlord’s failure to meet their duties to their tenants can mean someone is victimized by a violent crime and their lives permanently altered. Instances where bad lighting in a stairwell allows someone to fall prey to a rapist or where a tenant is robbed and beaten in a parking lot without security protocols like gates or guards can mean serious personal injuries and permanent harm that was reasonably foreseeable by the landlord and could have been prevented.
A good piece of advice if you have been harmed because your landlord breached a duty to you, is to speak with an experienced personal injury lawyer before you file a claim to learn about some of the issues that can arise with these claims, including the type of evidence needed to prove a claim and the type and amount of damages you can recover. Most personal injury lawyers, like Alan Sackrin, will offer a free initial consultation (over the phone or in person) to answer your questions.
,  &  Mansur v. Eubanks, 401 So.2d 1328 (Fla.1981)
 &  T.W. v. Regal Trace, Ltd., 908 So. 2d 499 (Fla. 4th DCA 2005); Czerwinski v. Sunrise Point Condominium, 540 So. 2d 199 (Fla. 3d DCA 1989); Paterson v. Deeb, 472 So. 2d 1210 (Fla. 1st DCA 1985).
Do you have questions or comments? Then please feel free to send Alan an email or call him now at (954) 458-8655.
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