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Security deposit — Claim on security deposit denied where landlord failed to present evidence that the property was undamaged at the beginning of the tenancy or prove that tenants breached their duty to maintain.

On April 6, 2016, tenants sued for the return of their $2200.00 security deposit.  Landlord filed a counterclaim for the cost of resodding the lawn,  alleging tenants failed to maintain it.

Paragraph 13 of the lease provided that tenants shall maintain the lawn, but if  landlord is not satisfied with tenants maintenance, landlord may maintain the lawn his self at tenants’ expense.

Paragraph 25 of the lease provided that Tenant shall  surrender the premises in as good condition as at the start of this lease.”

The earliest photograph of the law was taken seven months after the lease began and showed extensive brown spots.  There was further evidence  that the landlord and dug up the lawn to replace the sewer line,  of salt water intrusion, and of  failures of the sprinkler system. The court found that tenants did not breach their duty to maintain the lawn and that landlord had not proven that the lawn was in worse condition at the end of the tenancy than at the beginning.

The court ordered the return of $2100 of the security deposit and denied the landlord’s counterclaim in its entirety.    Landlord appealed.

The Appellate Court noted that the standard of review of the trial court’s finding of facts were that will not be disturbed unless they are clearly erroneous.” State Tr. Realty, LLC v. Deutsche Bank Nat. Tr. Co. Ams., 207 So. 3d 923, 925 (Fla. 4th DCA 2016) [41 Fla. L. Weekly D2328a]; Tampa HCP, LLC v. Bachor, 72 So. 3d 323, 326 (Fla. 2d DCA 2011) [36 Fla. L. Weekly D2350b]; Universal Beverages Holdings, Inc. v. Merkin, 902 So. 2d 288, 290 (Fla. 3d DCA 2005) [30 Fla. L. Weekly D1338b]; see Thorpe v. Myers, 67 So. 3d 338, 341 (Fla. 2d DCA 2011) [36 Fla. L. Weekly D1524b] (deferring to the circuit court’s findings of fact when they are based on competent, substantial evidence).

As the trial court’s finding appeared to be based in part on landlord’s  failure to present evidence that the lawn was in a healthier condition when the  tenants moved in and in part because the lawn was generally difficult to maintain due to flooding and damaged by landlord  during the sewer pipe trenching. It was within the trial court’s purview to reach this finding after weighing the testimony and evidence adduced at trial.

Thus, Appellate Court found that the Final Judgment was not clearly erroneous and affirmed.

LAMPROS HAROCOPOS, Appellant, v. ROBERT STEVEN EAST and TARA DAVIS EAST, Appellees. Circuit Court, 6th Judicial Circuit (Appellate) in and for Pinellas County. Case No. 16-000045AP-88A. UCN: 522016AP000045XXXXCI. December 7, 2017. Appeal from Final Judgment Pinellas County Court

Online Reference: FLWSUPP 2511HARO