Florida Condo Renter Questions Who is the Real Landlord

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J.D. from Florida writes:

Dear Mister Condo,

I began renting a one bedroom condo in late November, located in New Port Richey, FL. I was not given a lease nor provided with one even though I have asked for a lease several times. As I was unemployed at the time, the “landlord” agreed verbally that I could pay the rent every two weeks. I have been doing that and have not missed a rent payment. Over the course of the past few months, I have come to find out that my “landlord” does not own the condo, nor does the Association. The Pasco County Tax Collector shows the owner of record is Estate of Frank A. Belli, c/o Citimortgage.

When I questioned the “landlord” about this he said according to the Association’s attorney, they can rent out the property and that I was not a “squatter”. The “landlord” has become verbally abusive in his demands that the rent be paid the first of each month, completely ignoring the fact that he agreed verbally. I know I should have gotten the agreement in writing, but “landlord” won’t provide any written agreements.

If the “landlord” and the Association do not own the property, can they rent it out? Should I continue to pay rent to the “landlord”? Should I contact Citimortgage to inquire about the validity of the rental situation?

I do not feel comfortable in this situation and am also concerned that Citimortgage may ask me to move out. I just recently began working and am trying to get back on track financially. When I have asked to speak to the condo board about my situation, landlord refuses to provide information, other than the treasurer is his girlfriend and the president is a friend.

This whole situation is not on the up and up. If I could move, I would, but right now I can’t afford a security deposit, first and last month rent. Any suggestions on what I can do to protect myself and find out if I continue to pay landlord?

Thank you very much for your assistance.

Mister Condo replies:

J.D., what you have described here is not all that uncommon in your state from what I have read. When associations find themselves owed large sums of common fees from unit owners that have become delinquent, the association has a right to lease out the unit and collect their fees. This makes sense from the association’s point of view. They are simply collecting monies that are owed to them by using their legal right to do so. However, your lack of a lease does concern me and your landlord’s abuse seems completely unnecessary and may even border on harassment. However, you also need to remember the Golden Rule; he who has the gold makes the rules! In this case, your landlord has the gold by controlling your ability to live in the unit. You can sue and claim foul but you may also need to be prepared for a legal battle and maybe even need to vacate the unit. Neither sound like a very good option for you as you are don’t have the financial resources to make that move.

If I were you, I would very likely pay my rent when the landlord is asking for it and understand that your housing situation is less than ideal and you need to save up for a new place. If a legal battle ensues between the estate of the previous unit owner, the current mortgage holder, the association, and whoever else may claim an interest in the property, you would likely receive a notice to vacate. At that time, you would know what date you were being asked to be out of the property and you should plan accordingly. Moving forward, I cannot stress enough how important it is for you to get a written copy of your new lease and to have that lease reviewed by a competent attorney if you want to protect your peace of mind. I’d hate to see you jump out of the frying pan and into the fire. We all deserve to have a place we can comfortably call home. All the best!

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