(WSVN) - South Florida has a very competitive and expensive rental market. Some tenants say landlords are taking advantage by skipping out on repairs. Here’s Karen Hensel with our special assignment series, “Paradise Lost.”

Chara Fitzpatrick moved to Hollywood with her young kids so she could be closer to her dad.

Chara found a one room apartment for $1,400 a month.

Chara Fitzpatrick, apartment leaks: “We were looking for somewhere for six months to a year. You know, get settled in the town, look for things, find good jobs.”

But her plans started crumbling when the summer rains caused her ceiling to fall apart.

Chara Fitzpatrick: “They said that they were going to send people to fix it. They didn’t even go on the roof. They just took the sheet rock down and replaced the sheet rock and painted over it.”

When the rains kept coming, so did the damage.

Chara Fitzpatrick: “And I woke up to them crying, and it was just dripping water on them, and there was just roof debris on them.”

Robin Er, trailer leaks: “I was sound asleep, and it started raining, and I’m like, ‘Oh, I’m getting wet.'”

Robin Erb has rain coming in the bedroom window of the trailer she rents in Davie.

Robin Erb: “See that right here? It’s all – the walls are ready to cave in.”

Robin asked her landlord to fix the leaks.

Robin Erb: “He came over and looked and said, ‘I’ll get somebody on it.'”

But he didn’t.

Robin Erb: “This is where there’s black mold.”

She now has mold growing on her ceiling.

Chara also believes she has mold, and it made her daughter sick.

Chara Fitzpatrick: “She started getting feverish, and then after about two days that I couldn’t break it. I took her into the ER.”

She had pneumonia, so the family moved into a hotel. Her landlord still hasn’t fixed the leaks.

Chara Fitzpatrick: “He feels like we’re desperate and have nothing else, so we’re gonna do whatever our – you know, deal with it just like the other tenants have.”

Finding an apartment to rent is very difficult in South Florida.

Miami-Dade is the most competitive rental market in the U.S. Broward County is ranked ninth, and landlord complaints are on the rise.

Alexander Johnson, tenant lawyer: “In a tight market, the landlords frequently feel that there’s no real incentive to retain tenants when they can get new ones at higher prices.”

While most Florida laws benefit landlords, Alexander Johnson says renters can still fight for their rights.

Alexander Johnson: “If there’s something that needs to get fixed, you need to fill out this seven day notice form, notice of noncompliance. Until you use this form, you don’t have any rights.”

Johnson says list everything that’s wrong with the unit and then send it by email, regular mail, or even text message to your landlord. Your landlord then has seven days to fix the problem.

Alexander Johnson: “The tenant needs to document what, if anything, happened during the seven days.”

If nothing is done, you can then legally withhold your rent. But under Florida law, your landlord can still file for an eviction, and even if you win in court, that eviction stays on your record.

Alexander Johnson: “Even though the tenant did exactly what the state of Florida told him to do, it still shows up as an eviction.”

Chara still hasn’t heard from her landlord and stopped paying rent, but lives in fear he’s going to try to evict her family.

Chara Fitzpatrick: “The housing market is very high right now, so it is harder to find a spot.”

Robin doesn’t want to move, so she taped plastic around the window to stop the leaks.

Robin Erb: “He wanted me to take that down. He fought with me about taking it down because it didn’t look right.”

If your landlord isn’t fixing things in your apartment, links to the seven day notice form, along with instructions, are at the end of this report.

Friday in our special series, “Paradise Lost,” we talk to seniors who are struggling with the rising cost of housing in South Florida.

Karen Hensel, 7News.






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