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barristerinky
barristerinky, Attorney
Category: Landlord-Tenant
Satisfied Customers: 36562
Experience:  Attorney over 16 years, landlord 26 years
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We have been renting a house for 18 months. Seven months

Customer Question

We have been renting a house for 18 months. Seven months after we moved in the septic system backed up and raw sewage erupted in my master bath's two sinks, shower, garden tub, and WC room. it was horrible. The rental management company gave me $100 to have the mess cleaned up and they sent a septic service company to c lean the tank. Well, March fifth 2017 it happened again....only this time the sewage spewed over both bathrooms and backed up both toilets. This happened on a Saturday and so the management company has an emergency line which I called over and over again beggining for help! We never heard a word from anyone except 24 hours later on Sunday, the same septic company from last June showed up and supposedly cleaned the septic tank again. HOWEVER, this time the management company has billed us for the service call - first it was $410 and now it is $510. They are saying we are responsible since the service company told them we are "using too much toilet paper!." I am 74 years old and my daughter is 46 and we are the only ones living here. This is absurd beyond absurd. PLUS there is NO REFERENCE in the lease for us being responsible in any way to pay for any aspect of the septic system. The management company has given us an eviction notice. HELP! This is completely illegal - they can't just arbritarily decide we owe the money on a septic system issue when there's no mention of it in the lease. It is all too preposterous yet they are doing it. HELP! we are in Naples, Florida in case that matters.
JA: Because laws vary from place to place, can you tell me what state the property is in?
Customer: It was my final line in my message to you : Naples, Florida
JA: What are the terms of the lease? Any issues related to maintenance or upkeep?
Customer: None related to the septic system, that's for sure. It's a one year lease which is up November first.
JA: Anything else you want the lawyer to know before I connect you?
Customer: Well, this is pretty serious a situation. I have talked and talked and talked with them but they are intractable. I am terribly ill and was just released from the hospital yesterday. I have little steam to deal with this but I obviously must.
Submitted: 1 month ago.
Category: Landlord-Tenant
Expert:  barristerinky replied 1 month ago.

Hello and welcome! My name is ***** ***** I am a licensed attorney and will try my best to help with your situation. There may be a slight delay in my responses as I research statutes or ordinances and type out an answer or reply, but rest assured, I am working on your question.

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You are in the right here and it is the landlord's duty to make sure that the plumbing and sewage facilities function properly. So this entire mess is on them to fix and clean up as that kind of a sewage backup can make the property uninhabitable and it would have given you grounds to stay at a hotel at their cost until the cleanup is completed..

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So if they are trying to evict you now based on the cost to cure a problem that they are responsible, then they don't have a leg to stand on and a judge should throw the case out of court if they actually tried to evict you over this.

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The problem that I potentially see here is if you are not under a fixed term lease and are month to month... If that is the case, then either you or the landlord could end the tenancy with only a 15 day written notice to terminate.

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So you could end your lease or they could end it with only a 15 day notice...

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If that is what they gave you, then legally they can do so under FL law, even if it is unfair and inequitable. I don't see them being able to hold you liable for any cost of cleaning or maintaining the septic as that is their duty..

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thanks

Barrister

Customer: replied 1 month ago.
No, we have a year's lease. As I said in my query, Our lease is up November first. So NOW what? Do we wait for them to take us to court and just go pro se and tell the judge the truth? What action can we take from here? Plus this is an unethical management company - obviously - and there is a hitch thanks to them with our rent. I paid the rent in full electronically like I am supposed to through their portal. They informed me that my payment bounced. IT DID NOT. I could clearly see there was plenty in the account to pay the rent so I called Wells Fargo. They informed me that they could see the management company had TRIED to take out the rent but they made an error on their end - maybe a typo or wrong routing number. Wells fargo could not be sure. But to this date they have not taken the rent. I think they are doing this to make it look to the court like we did not pay. How do I prove I did?
Expert:  barristerinky replied 1 month ago.

First off, can you tell me what paper notice have they given you... What does the notice say?

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Is it a summons, or just some threat to terminate your tenancy?

Customer: replied 1 month ago.
They put a letter on our door saying pay the $510 immediately or they will begin to Evict Thursday - we haven't heard any more since then. so I guess it was a threat because it was not a legal document.
Customer: replied 1 month ago.
I called one of the men who signed the letter and had a long conversation with him. He was intractable that we pay the service call fee. I called and gave him my direct phone number in the hospital but never heard back from him. Nor is there a voice mail from him now that I am home from, the hospital.
Expert:  barristerinky replied 1 month ago.

Ok, then that notice really doesn't mean anything legally..

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Until they actually give you some type of formal notice to vacate, they are just bluffing you.

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So at this point, there is nothing to do on your part as there is nothing to respond to.

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As an aside, in addition to being an attorney, I have also been a landlord for over 26 years...

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thanks

Barrister

Expert:  barristerinky replied 1 month ago.

As for the rent, you need to make sue it gets paid... even if you have to go get a money order from the bank and deliver it to them. And get something in writing from your bank where they state what you related to me about them messing up the debit as you need that for proof you aren't the one to blame. Include a copy of that with your rent. That way they can't claim you didn't pay and try to evict for that..

Customer: replied 1 month ago.
OK -- I think they have not taken the rent as a ploy. BIT if I take a money order, it will look like I am VERY late and they can add on late fees. And how do I get the bank to write that up for me?
Expert:  barristerinky replied 1 month ago.

That is why you have to have the letter from the bank... to prove you weren't late. Stating what happened without anything from the bank isn't very convincing.. So you need to get the local branch manager to look up the transaction and ask them to put something on their letterhead for you about what happened. If you explain that you are worried they will try to ding you for late fees and claim it is your fault, they should agree to get you something in writing. And make sure you keep a copy of it for your records..

Customer: replied 1 month ago.
OK, I will call the bank manager and ask him or her to put that in writing. I, too, was a landlord in Chicago and it took six months to evict anybody there when they really didn't pay. Not so in Florida. What is the quickest you think they could force an eviction even if they don't have grounds? Most unfortunately, I cannot afford to hire an attorney.
Expert:  barristerinky replied 1 month ago.

Well, if they don't have legal grounds, then they can't evict you until your lease terminates. Then they could immediately file to evict the next day.. The courts won't allow them to terminate a fixed term lease unless there is a provable violation.

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But they are just trying to scare you into paying for the septic because they know that they are not legally able to hold you liable.

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If that happens again, then immediately call the local Code Enforcement office to get them out to inspect, document, and give you a report. That way you have an independent party report for your records. And if they tried to evict you later, then you can defend as illegal retaliation and sue the landlord for it.

Customer: replied 1 month ago.
Thank you. I take it the Code Enforcement Office is tied to the county government? Right? Or is state or what?
Expert:  barristerinky replied 1 month ago.

You are very welcome.

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And both Code Enforcement and the Housing Inspector are local govt offices at the county level..

Expert:  barristerinky replied 1 month ago.

Hello again,

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I just wanted to touch base with you and check in.

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Did you have any further questions I can help with?

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Thanks much

Barrister

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