FORGETTING TO SEND THE NOTICE OF INTENTION TO IMPOSE CLAIM ON SECURITY DEPOSIT
Did you ever get that horrible feeling when you realized that you forgot to send the “Notice of Intention to Impose Claim on the Security Deposit” out to the resident? For years we have drilled into our clients’ heads the importance of sending the Notice (we will call it that from this point on) out within 30 days of the resident vacating, but sometimes it just gets forgotten. You may have evicted the resident, and the last thing on your mind is returning any money to the resident as the resident owes so much to you. The resident may have skipped out in the middle of the night owing 3 months’ rent, and again you would not think of returning any money to him, or you realize the resident is gone and there is $5000.00 worth of damage to the unit. Unfortunately, the fact that the resident owes you and will not be getting a dime back does not excuse you from sending out the Notice. Your failure to send out the notice within the time period as required by law could result in you having to return the entire security deposit to the resident. This could be a devastating occurrence especially if the security deposit was a significant amount of money. So, you forgot to send the Notice out within 30 days of the resident vacating. Is it over now? Do you have to return the money to the resident? Possibly NOT. Florida law has carved out an exception to the 30 day rule which MAY be able to save you.
The General Rule
The general rule which almost every property manager knows is found in Florida Statutes 83.49, the security deposit statute. The statute provides that upon the “vacating of the premises for termination of the lease”, the manager shall have 30 days from that date to send out the Notice to the resident’s last known address, which of course is the unit the resident was renting unless they gave you a new address. The law used to be 15 days, but through the efforts of the Florida Apartment Association in getting the law changed, the manager has 30 days to send out this Notice. The confusing part of the statute has to do with the wording “vacating the premise for termination of the lease”. This wording is open to more than one interpretation. Obviously it would apply to the resident leaving at the end of the lease, but what about an eviction? Does an eviction terminate the “lease”, or does it terminate the “tenancy”? A good argument can be made that if a resident does not fulfill the lease term, whether by abandonment, surrender, or eviction, and the manager tries to rerent the unit on the residents’ account under Florida Statute 83.595, the 30-day counting period should not start until the lease expiration date or the date a replacement resident takes occupancy, whichever occurs earlier. Under this statutory interpretation, the date under which the resident loses the right of possession and the date under which the lease obligations are terminated can be two very different dates. However, some judges may not accept this argument, and will start the 30-day counting period strictly from when the unit was physically vacated. Therefore, the safe approach is to remember to send the Notice out within 30 days from the date the resident physically vacates. If you know when the resident vacates, as in an eviction being finalized with the sheriff, or at the end of a lease, you know when to begin counting your 30 days. But wait. We forgot to send the notice out, and this is what this article is all about!!!!
The Penalty For Not Following the Rule
If you fail to send the Notice out within 30 days, you forfeit the right to impose a claim on the security deposit. In other words, you must return the full security deposit to the resident.
The Exception to the Rule
There is an exception to the rule that you must send out the Notice within 30 days. We are going to tell it to you, but after you read this article, we want you to forget you ever heard about the exception, and we want you to ALWAYS get the Notice mailed within 30 days.
FS 83.49 (5) Except when otherwise provided by the terms of a written lease, any resident who vacates or abandons the premises prior to the expiration of the term specified in the written lease, or any resident who vacates or abandons premises which are the subject of a tenancy from week to week, month to month, quarter to quarter, or year to year, shall give at least 7 days' written notice by certified mail or personal delivery to the manager prior to vacating or abandoning the premises, which notice shall include the address where the resident may be reached. Failure to give such notice shall relieve the manager of the notice requirement of paragraph (3) (a) but shall not waive any right the resident may have to the security deposit or any part of it.
An Examination of this Exception
As you can see under FS 83.49(5), if a resident abandons or vacates before the end of the lease, the resident is required to give at least 7 days’ written notice by certified mail or personal delivery, telling you he is vacating and giving you a forwarding address. AHA! Many residents do not do this. They simply skip out in the middle of the night, or tell you they are leaving and then leave. In this case YOU DO NOT have to send out the NOTICE within 30 days! If the resident is not on a lease but the tenancy is now month to month or week to week, the same rule applies. If the resident fails to give you the notice of vacating and a forwarding address at least 7 days before they vacate, you DO NOT have to send out the Notice to them. Here is a recap.
- The resident must give you at least 7 days’ written notice before they vacate, advising you that she is vacating.
- The notice from the resident must be hand delivered or sent to you by certified mail.
Why Does the Law Provide This Exception?
The reason this exception exists is so that you are not under the 30-day requirement when you have no idea if the resident has in fact vacated. Often you do not know the date the resident vacates, so you should not be held to a timetable when you do not know when that time period starts. This is a manager protection exception.
The Danger of Using the Exception
In all the years of training property managers, we frequently avoid talking about the exception to the rule that you must send the Notice out within 30 days, and you might have wondered why. The reason is simple. People are dishonest, and when the resident finds out that he was supposed to give you at least seven days’ written notice by hand delivery or certified mail stating when he was leaving and giving you his new forwarding address, a copy of this notice can miraculously appear, and the resident will tell the judge that he in fact DID give you this notice. Now you are faced with having to explain to a judge that you did not receive the notice, and the resident will try to convince the judge that he did give you the notice. Who will the judge believe? You or the resident? Never underestimate how convincingly someone can lie to a judge.
You Know the Exception, Now What?
Now that you know the exception to the rule, forget about it. Always get the Notice out within the 30-day time period as required by law. Assume the resident will lie and say that he DID give you at least 7 days’ notice before he left, and that he DID give you a forwarding address. Only use the exception to the rule if you are in a bind and have forgotten to send out the Notice within the 30 days; possibly the exception will be there to help you. If you do forget to send out the Notice, go ahead and do it anyway even if you are outside the 30-day window. There is no need to alert the resident to the fact that they did not give you the required 7 day notice, because this will give the resident ample opportunity to fabricate the notice after the fact. A number of years ago, one of our clients was being sued by an attorney who argued to the judge that our client failed to send the Notice out within 30 days. It was true. Our client did not send the Notice out. We turned to the resident and asked if he had given our client a notice at least 7 days prior to vacating with his new forwarding address. The resident said “no”, and we won the case. Let this limited, technical exception work in your favor when needed; don’t open yourself up unnecessarily to having to use it. As soon as you think the resident has vacated, begin counting your days and get your Notice out!!! Whether it be a skip, an eviction or the natural ending of the lease, get the Notice out.
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