Florida law governs the contents of rent to own contracts. If the contract contains terms which are prohibited under the law, those terms are void and cannot be enforced against you in court. Moreover, anyone who violates the law may be subject to penalties which could include fines and you could recover damages.
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What Is Rent to Own?
Renting to own personal property, like a sofa or a television, is a way to acquire the property without committing to pay the full purchase price up front. By entering into a rent to own contract, you are agreeing to a short term (less than four months) rental arrangement. Each time you pay the rent and keep the rented property, the agreement renews for another term until you have paid the purchase price in full and become the owner of the property. If you decide not to go through with the purchase, you can terminate the agreement by returning the property at the end of any rental period.
Under a rent to own contract, the person or business collecting rental payments from you is called the lessor. The person paying the rent is called the lessee.
Rent to Own Contracts Must Be In Writing
Florida law requires that any rent to own contract be in writing and signed by both parties. It must include all essential terms before it is signed, and a copy of the signed contract must be delivered to you. The printed portion of the contract must be in at least six point type and must include a notice which informs you that you should not sign the contract until all of the blanks are filled in, and that you must be provided an exact copy of the signed agreement which you should keep for your legal protection.
The agreement must state all information clearly, using commonly understood words and phrases. It must be divided into sections with the topics clearly labeled. All amounts and percentages must be stated in numbers rather than words. Additional information may be included but it cannot contradict, detract from, or draw attention away from any disclosures required by law.
Details That Must Be Included In Florida Rent to Own Contracts
The following details must be included in Florida rent to own contracts:
- name and business address of the lessor
- your name and personal or business address
- a brief description of the property sufficient to identify it (this must include whether property is new or was previously leased)
- the total amount of the initial payment, including advance payments, delivery charges and trade in amounts
- the amount of each rental payment to be paid and the due date
- an itemization of any additional charges not included in the rental payment
- the total amount you will end up paying for the purchase of the property under the agreement -- including the total of all the rent payments, the initial payments and any other fees or charges
- the extent of your responsibility for loss or damage to the property other than normal wear and tear
- your right to reinstate the agreement if you fall behind in payments, including disclosure of any penalties and other charges, and the method to be used for calculating any amount you need to pay to reinstate the agreement
- the party that is responsible for maintaining or servicing the property during the term of the agreement and a brief description of the extent of the responsibility
- when and under what circumstances you may terminate the agreement
- disclosure that you have the option to complete the purchase during the term of the agreement and the price or method for calculating the price if you exercise this option
- a statement that any manufacturer's warranties in effect at the completion of the purchase will be transferred to you, and
- the actual cash price of the property if you were to purchase it rather then enter into a rent to own agreement.
Terms That Are Prohibited by Florida Law
The following terms are prohibited by law. If they are included in your contract, they are void and not enforceable against you. The agreement cannot:
- require you to agree to wage garnishment, stipulate to a judgment, or grant the lessor a power of attorney on your behalf
- give the lessor a right to illegally enter your property or breach the peace to recover or repossess the rental items if you don’t pay
- require you to waive any legal defenses, counterclaims, or rights to sue that you might have
- require you to purchase insurance from the lessor ( it can require that you keep the property insured but not that you purchase it from the lessor)
- impose early termination penalties or require return of the property outside of the remedies allowed in the case of default and fees allowed for reinstatement or damage.
Limitations on Additional Charges
Florida law also limits the type of additional costs the rent to own lessor may charge.
Rental Renewal Charges. The lessor may charge a late fee, called a rental renewal charge, if you fail to make your payment on time. Only one rental renewal charge of up to five dollars may be assessed for each late payment, no matter how late the payment is. The rental renewal charge may not be assessed against a timely payment even if a prior payment remains outstanding.
Receipts. Upon request, you are entitled to a receipt at no charge when you make a payment.
Accounting. You are entitled to a complete account history upon request but, if you request more than one in any 12 month period, the lessor may charge a five dollar fee.
Your Right to Reinstate the Contract
If you stop making payments under the agreement, you can preserve your right to reinstate the contract within 60 days if you promptly surrender or return the property to the lessor or its agent upon request. The 60-day time frame is calculated from the last day of the rental period for which you did pay. The total amount required to reinstate may include all unpaid rental payments, any rental renewal charges incurred, a reinstatement fee of no more than five dollars, and a delivery charge if the property needs to be redelivered.
If you reinstate, the lessor must provide you with the same property that you were renting before or substitute property of comparable quality and condition. If substitute property is provided, the disclosure as to whether the property is new or used must be made again.
Violations and Damages
A lessor that wilfully violates the law may be subject to fines. Provided you have given the lessor 30 days notice of a violation which has not been corrected, you can sue for actual damages or 25% of the total cost of the purchase price plus attorneys' fees and court costs. The lessor's remedies are limited to those in the agreement and may not exceed the amounts set under the law, which can include attorneys' fees and costs.