Can I Recover Attorney’s Fees If My Lease Does Not Mention Them?

Landlord-Tenant brown book on wooden table

Disputes between landlords and their tenants are all too common. From eviction actions to spats over security deposits and habitability concerns, the courts are inundated with landlord-tenant disagreements. Unfortunately, you may find yourself in the middle of one of these disagreements. Perhaps you want to sue your landlord for what you believe is a clear violation of your lease. Or perhaps your landlord is suing you for falling behind on your rent payments. In any event, you might become hesitant to proceed with your lawsuit—or pressed to settle the case against you—when that first bill from your attorney comes in. 

You scrutinize your lease and can’t find any mention of whether the non-prevailing party in a lawsuit must pay the prevailing party’s attorney’s fees. Or, you don’t have a written lease at all. 

You do a bit of research, and the American Rule seems to indicate that you must pay your own fees. Are you out of luck? Not necessarily.

What is the American Rule?

The American Rule requires all parties in a civil suit to pay their own attorney’s fees, regardless of the suit’s outcome. Generally, the American Rules controls all civil suits in the U.S. justice system, with two notable exceptions. First, if a contract between the parties stipulates that the prevailing party in a dispute will have its attorney’s fees paid, the American Rule will not be enforced. Second, if a statute provides that a prevailing party in a dispute will have its attorney’s fees paid, the American Rule will similarly not be enforced. In Florida, attorney’s fees for prevailing parties are available under several statutes. 

There are at least two, lesser-known reasons that a court may not enforce the American Rule. First, if a tortfeasor’s actions force the prevailing party to spend money on non-litigation related attorney’s fees, that party may be able to recover their fees as special damages. Second, if a party files a frivolous lawsuit, drags on a lawsuit through insincere appeals, or conducts themselves extremely unprofessionally, a judge may order the party to pay the other side’s attorney’s fees.

Are There Any Florida Statutes That Provide for Prevailing Party Attorney’s Fees in Lease Disputes?

Fla. Stat. §83.48 provides that the prevailing party in a civil action brought to enforce the provisions of a rental agreement may recover reasonable attorney’s fees and court costs from the non-prevailing party. Per Fla. Stat. §83.43, “Rental agreement” means any written agreement, including amendments or addenda, or oral agreement for a duration of less than 1 year. The right to attorney’s fees may not be waived. So, if you prevail in your landlord/tenant dispute, Fla. Stat. §83.48 entitles you to an award of reasonable attorney’s fees. But remember, getting an award of attorney’s fees does not mean that you will be able to collect on the judgment. 

EPGD Business Law is located in beautiful Coral Gables. Call us at (786) 837-6787, or contact us through the website to schedule a consultation.

*Disclaimer: this blog post is not intended to be legal advice. We highly recommend speaking to an attorney if you have any legal concerns. Contacting us through our website does not establish an attorney-client relationship.*

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Eric Gros-Dubois

Founding partner Eric Gros-Dubois established EPGD Business Law in 2013. With over a decade of experience expanding the firm and leading it to its current success, Eric now primarily manages the corporate division of EPGD. Given Eric’s educational background, holding both a JD and MBA, combined with his own unique experience of starting a business from scratch and growing it to a multi-million dollar firm, he brings a specialized and invaluable perspective to those seeking legal assistance for themselves and their businesses. Having now instilled his same values in our team of skilled corporate associates, Eric leads a firm that is always ready, willing, and equipped to handle any and every legal matter that a business owner may have.


*The following comments are not intended to be treated as legal advice. The answer to your question is limited to the basic facts presented. Additional details may heavily alter our assessment and change the answer provided. For a more thorough review of your question please contact our office for a consultation.



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