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What To Know About Your Tenant’s Rights And The Risks Of Withholding Rent

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Shannon Rose was evicted from Gallery on the River last fall, after withholding rent following a leaking window.

(Johania Charles for The Miami Times)

National eviction filings are up 50% from pre-COVID numbers according to Princeton University’s Eviction Lab – and people who fail to pay rent for whatever reason face a greater risk of being shown the door.

In the past month, 4,330 evictions were filed in the Miami-Fort Lauderdale area, the Eviction Lab revealed. And the Community Justice Project, whose work includes increasing access to quality, affordable housing, counted 19,972 filed evictions – a vast majority of which were residential – in Miami-Dade County in 2022.

Shannon Rose was evicted in September from Gallery on the River (GOTR), a residential apartment building at 401 NW N River Dr., after purposely withholding rent. She did not anticipate being among those nearly 20,000 filed evictions last year.

Shannon Rose, Former Gallery on the River Tenant

(Johania Charles for The Miami Times)

GOTR was developed by Related Urban – which owns other “Gallery” locations across Miami – with funding from the county and private partners.

Prior to this latest eviction, Rose had at least two other eviction lawsuits filed against her, one of which was under her business alias, Bridge Golde.

“I’ve been couch-hopping since then,” she said, recounting her short-lived, four-month occupancy at GOTR. “If not for friends and family, I would be homeless. This apartment was very important to me because it was my way of bouncing back. I had just left another nightmare apartment. Moving into this building, I thought I was getting ready to bounce back. It was a brand-new building and for about 20 days, everything was moving ahead.”

The 12-story affordable housing and workforce apartment complex advertised as an ideal place to live, work and play was nothing short of a nightmare, Rose said – one that allegedly began with a window leak.

“On June 3, 2022, at about 3 a.m., I felt water dripping on my face and woke up to discover that my window was leaking,” she explained. “The leak was in my bedroom over the window frame, which I would say was about four feet long. Along the length of the window is this long crack, and that was where the water was coming from.

Gallery on the River is located at 401 NW N River Dr.

(Johania Charles for The Miami Times)

“Not only was the water coming from the crack, but I later noticed that the water was coming down from behind the drywall and underneath the wood floor. You would hear the water underneath it when you’re walking.”

An approaching storm

A screenshot of the June 16, 2022, email received by Shannon Rose stating that her window leak repair had been completed at 12 a.m. (Courtesy of Shannon Rose)

Rose told management she slipped and fell while getting out of bed because of the leaking window. A maintenance worker stopped by that day to examine and photograph the window frame and concluded there was a minor crack that couldn’t be repaired until the rain – due to the approaching Tropical Storm Alex – subsided. Property manager Belkis Herrera informed Rose by email that a team member would return June 6 or 7 to make repairs.

Concerned about the lack of urgency to complete the repairs ahead of the stormy weekend – during which the storm ultimately dropped 10 to 15 inches of rain on South Florida the next day – Rose emailed a seven-day notice to Herrera disclosing her intent to withhold rent until repairs were made and a recurring issue with electrical outlets being blown out was resolved.

It was dated June 3 of last year, the day Rose said the leak began and also the same day she intended to pay her monthly rent, though it was due on June 1. She said rental payments were accepted by the landlord up until the third of each month.

The window seen here on the left-hand side of Shannon Rose’s former apartment unit is where she says a persistent leak started.

(Courtesy of Shannon Rose)

“I wanted the issue fixed. Once you pay them, you waive your rights … I was just following the law,” she said, referencing the Miami-Dade County Tenants’ Bill of Rights and Florida’s Landlord Tenant Act, which outline rights of tenants and landlord obligations, such as maintaining rental units.

She then received a three-day notice demanding her $2,602 balance be paid by June 9, but she insisted on withholding rent until the window was fixed.

An email sent to Rose June 16, 2022, that was shared with The Miami Times stated that a technician completed her service request at 12 a.m. Additional emails stated that further tests on the windows were scheduled for days later.

However, a public relations representative for the building’s management told the Times last Friday, June 23, that they could not confirm there was a leak or a problem in the first place.

A crack shown along a window at Gallery on the River.

(Courtesy of Shannon Rose)

Tenant & landlord rights

According to a Legal Services of Greater Miami fact sheet posted on the county’s website, landlords must ensure that windows, doors and walls are weather-tight and water-tight, electrical systems are in good working order, roofs have no leaks, stairs are safe, and windows are without cracks or holes.

If the landlord does not maintain the unit, Legal Services advises tenants to gather picture and video evidence of the problems in the unit. The tenant can either remain in the rental unit and withhold rent until the issue is resolved or, if the issues render the unit uninhabitable, the renter can terminate their lease and move out

Large cracks near a unit where Shannon Rose lived last year at Gallery on the River.

(Courtesy of Shannon Rose)

A tenant can legally withhold rent after notifying the landlord of their nonpayment intent via a written notice requesting unit repairs within seven days of the latter receiving the letter.

The letter should be sent to the landlord via certified mail with a return receipt requested and a copy sent by first class U.S. mail as well as email. It can also be hand delivered by the tenant to the landlord.

Under Miami-Dade County’s tenants bill, renters can also have the repairs made themselves and deduct repair costs from rent owed. A similar notice detailing the renter’s intent to withhold rent and use the money to make repairs must be given to the landlord if the unit’s condition is not improved within a week.

“We recommend sending a letter only when the violations significantly impact your living conditions or impact your health and safety,” read the fact sheet. “We do not recommend sending a rent withholding letter when the repairs are minor or cosmetic.”

Tenants in public housing owned by government entities, such as Miami-Dade County, are not covered by the county’s Tenants’ Bill of Rights, which bans landlords from requiring eviction history in applications. Nor do renters on rent-to-own contracts or living in mobile homes, condominium unita or hotels and motels qualify for protections under the Florida Landlord Tenant Act.

Searching for help

“We passed the first-ever countywide Tenant Bill of Rights, which gave us additional tools to protect thousands of vulnerable residents,” said Miami-Dade County Mayor Daniella Levine Cava in a statement to the Times after being contacted for comment. “While reaching every tenant navigating the current housing crisis remains a challenge, we have been able to support over 250,000 families who were behind in their rent and at risk of homelessness.”

Rose personally notified the mayor at GOTR’s June 27, 2022, opening reception of her intention to continue withholding rent and was referred to the county’s Office of Housing Advocacy (OHA), which had initially vouched for Rose to move into GOTR pending a relocation assistance application through the Emergency Rental Assistance Program.

“OHA explained her rights and eviction process … along with connecting her to legal service providers,” said a spokesperson from the office, explaining that the office could not provide legal advice. “[We] again stressed that withholding rent could be an involved legal matter, often resulting in an eviction being filed, and that she should consult an attorney.”

In light of the filed eviction, OHA said it made every effort to coordinate with Related Urban to prevent Rose’s eviction through ERAP funding but said her application was denied because she surpassed the $54,640 income threshold.

Rose asserts that her income was less than that.

Citing Florida’s implied warranty of habitability, she says her eviction was illegal and argues that her right to a livable dwelling was not upheld, nor was the building structurally safe since the window did not effectively keep out rain.

“If we’re looking at the statues, technically a tenant is required to give [their] rent-withholding notice within seven days and then after seven days a landlord doesn’t make the proper repairs, then you withhold the rent,” said TerryAnn Howell, a landlord tenant attorney. “The timing of the damage and the rental due date was not in her favor, sadly … But I cannot comment on the validity of her rent withholding or her eviction because there may have been other factors that I am not aware of.”

TerryAnn Howell, Landlord Tenant Attorney


Facing defeat

Caretaker, a property management company, says tenants must be paid up on any rent due at the time of repair requests in order to legally withhold rent. Florida law says tenants cannot be evicted for nonpayment if proper notice of rent withholding was sent to the landlord and still, repairs weren’t made.

“Moreover, Defendant’s purported 7 day notice was served after rent for the month of June 2022 was due on June 1, 2022, and thus, was untimely and ineffectual,” reads a July 2022 motion filed by an attorney for GOTR, requesting a final judgment from the court on Rose’s eviction.

“From June 3 to June 16 and even up until the day they evicted me, no one ever told me what caused the leak in this apartment,” said Rose.

“I can also tell you, that even if the process was done correctly, landlords … generally still sue for an eviction for any nonpayment of rent,” added Howell, saying the outcome of withholding rent depends on the reason and repairs required. “It’s important that a tenant first reads [their] lease, and ensure that all communications about the repairs required are documented.”

Howell, who is the president of the Wilkie D. Ferguson, Jr. Bar Association, said her organization will be partnering with Legal Services and other local attorney associations to provide pro bono assistance for qualifying low-income tenants on such matters through next year, thanks to a county grant.

Building safety concerns

Less than a year after Rose filed a lawsuit against CDM Windows & Doors, Inc. for negligence and failure to ensure that windows were installed properly, at least two current tenants have spotted mold growing inside their respective units at GOTR this month. Only one would speak on the record with the Times.

Devante Trotter is a private chef living in Gallery on the River, who says many of his kitchen supplies have been infested with mold.

(Courtesy of Devante Trotter)

“I was one of the first tenants to move in, but ever since we moved in it’s been kind of sketchy,” said Devante Trotter, who has lived in the building for more than a year. “Things are always breaking, there’s this Lively app that lets us into the building that’s always broken. Then you have the mold problem, which is the biggest issue that we have.

“Out of nowhere, the mold started forming in different areas in my apartment and it messed up my shoes, luggages and a lot of my kitchen supplies, which I need and use as a private chef.”

Trotter, who is awaiting the birth of his son, worries about his family living inside what he says is a mold-infested unit.

“We are not authorized to speak to the press, but there are no concerns whatsoever,” Herrera said Tuesday afternoon, before disconnecting our call, when asked to confirm whether the office had received complaints about mold in units

Items inside Devante Trotter’s apartment at Gallery on the River show visible mold.

(Courtesy of Devante Trotter)

“When I told [management] about the mold issue, they said they would send someone up to assess the situation,” said Trotter. “But when they came all they did was spray Zep, which is like this beach cleanser, and scrubbed the wall where the mold was. But you can still see that some of the mold stains are still there.”

He first spotted the mold about three weeks ago on the wall behind his couch, inside kitchen cabinets and on personal items such as pairs of sneakers lined up against a wall near the bedroom window.

“The first apartment I ever rented down here in Miami, there was mold all behind the wall and we didn’t know but my girlfriend started to get sick,” said Trotter. “Then there was mushrooms growing out of my ceiling and when the landlord finally sent someone out, he told me ‘You’re basically not going to be able to stay in this apartment until we’re done.’”

Trotter disclosed being required to sign a form waiving rights to sue GOTR for mold, as did Rose. He told the Times that a maintenance person had recently visited his unit and informed him that there would be no need for a second treatment, stating the mold had been killed, but he says his apartment still reeks of mold.

“This is affecting me mentally because I’ve dealt with this before and said ‘You know what, give me my security deposit, I’m moving out,” Trotter said, e