$50 phone calls? Florida home rental company loads lease agreements with fees

Company managed by former dentist whose license was revoked by state in 2017

ORLANDO, Fla. – As Tammi Renner was preparing to move from North Carolina to be closer to family in Central Florida, she went online in search of an affordable rental home that fit her budget.

Renner eventually found a modest house in Orlando’s Parramore neighborhood with rent advertised at $650 per month. However, by the time Renner received her first monthly invoice, extra fees assessed by the property management company caused her payment to increase by several hundred dollars.

Renner’s October bill originally totaled more than $1,300 before the property management company agreed to remove some of the additional charges.

That company, Florida Beach Coast, is currently facing at least ten lawsuits from tenants who claim they were misled about the homes they were renting or the money they’d be required to pay.

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Florida Beach Coast has not responded to any of the complaints in court, in part because the plaintiffs have had difficulty serving the lawsuits on company officials.

“I had absolutely no idea what I was getting into,” Renner said. “I was just excited about being accepted.”

Before Renner had the opportunity to view the lease agreement, she said Florida Beach Coast required her to pay a non-refundable $1,570 deposit that included the first month’s rent and other fees standard in the home rental industry.

Prior to moving in, the company asked Renner to pay an additional $1,500 to cover an unspecified “service fee” and “maintenance, updating and design fee”.

“They got $3,000 out of me just to move in here,” Renner said.

She had planned to live in the home for only three months while she searched for a more long-term rental property.

After consenting to pay Florida Beach Coast’s fees, Renner signed the 12-page lease agreement.

“Honestly, that lease was so long that I didn’t read a lot of it,” Renner said. “I wish that I would have really looked at the fine print.”

Had Renner reviewed the lease agreement closely, she would have discovered Florida Beach Coast charges tenants several additional fees, including some mandatory fees, that can significantly increase the advertised monthly rent payment.

Tenants are required to pay a $20 monthly fee to use an internet portal needed to pay rent and schedule maintenance online. The company charges an additional $50 if tenants lock themselves out of the portal.

Tenants who do not set up automatic rent payments from their bank account are assessed an additional $50 monthly fee.

If the rental home is equipped with a stove, dishwasher or refrigerator, tenants are required to pay a $25 monthly appliance rental fee.

Some of Florida Beach Coast’s homes are randomly monitored by security cameras connected to the internet, according to the lease. Tenants are required to pay $75 per month for that internet service.

The company also assesses a mandatory $50 monthly “COVID-19/government regulation fee.”

“It’s not like they come in and disinfect or anything,” Renner said.

Nadia Sanchez, a manager at Florida Beach Coast, said that fee helps the company cover costs such as those incurred from the CDC’s now-rescinded eviction moratorium, code violations caused by other tenants and property taxes.

“The fee is fully disclosed in all advertisements, online and in written lease agreements,” Sanchez said.

To discourage tenants from communicating with Florida Beach Coast by phone, tenants are charged $50 to receive a returned phone call from the company.

“What business charges you $50 to call them?” Renner said.

Sanchez said the company prefers to communicate with tenants through the online portal or by email.

“Many people will claim they weren’t told something or ‘didn’t say this or that.’ We get everything in writing,” Sanchez said. “The phone call charge is meant to discourage phone calls since we don’t have the staffing capability to answer all calls.”

When Renner attempted to dispute charges on her October rent invoice, she was unable to speak with anyone from Florida Beach Coast in person because the company does not disclose its office address to the public.

Instead, the company uses the address of the United States post office in Gotha.

“There is a safety concern for our employees,” Sanchez said. “The vast majority of our interactions with the general public are positive. However, our staff members deal with verbal and written threats daily, via email, text or on the phone.”

Sanchez said Florida Beach Coast does not reject tenants with criminal records as some other landlords may do.

“We support that people with imperfect backgrounds are looking to improve their lives and need a place to live as well,” Sanchez said. “We are proud to welcome them to our homes.”

Limited liability companies like Florida Beach Coast LLC are required by state law to list “the street and mailing address of the company’s principal office” on paperwork filed with Florida’s Secretary of State, along with the street address for the company’s registered agent.

On state corporation filings, Florida Beach Coast uses the Gotha post office as its principal address and registered agent’s address.

Florida Beach Coast claims it is complying with state law by using the postal service’s “Street Addressing” program, which the USPS website describes as a “premium PO Box”.

Florida’s Division of Corporations specifically informs limited liability companies that PO Box numbers are not acceptable.

By using the address of a post office, Florida Beach Coast has avoided being served with lawsuits filed by tenants and contractors, court records show.

In April, a tenant sued the company for allegedly requiring her to pay $675 in repairs mandated by code enforcement after leasing her family an “unsafe” home in Wildwood. A process server was unable to formally notify Florida Beach Coast of the lawsuit because court papers could not be served at the Gotha post office address, court records show.

When a carpet company unsuccessfully attempted to serve a lawsuit at the post office address for what it claimed was an unpaid bill, court records show the contractor tried to serve the lawsuit at the Windermere home of Florida Beach Coast’s registered agent and manager, Ben Spivey.

Spivey is a former dentist who was disciplined by the Florida Department of Health multiple times for failure to meet minimum standards of care and failure to maintain dental records, state records show. The Florida Department of Health revoked Spivey’s license to practice dentistry in 2017, four months before he established Florida Beach Coast, according to state records.

Spivey did not respond to requests for comment submitted by email to Florida Beach Coast.

“I was fuming. I was irate. I was ready to try and track them down,” Renner said after discovering an additional $250 charge on her monthly bill for lawn care.

Renner disputes Florida Beach Coast’s claim that a lawn maintenance contractor cut her lawn, insisting she mowed the lawn herself and never saw a contractor on the property. After News 6 inquired about the lawn care charge, Florida Beach Coast removed it from Renner’s bill.

The company also removed a $100 charge related to its requirement that tenants upload a copy of their renter’s insurance policy to the online tenant portal. Renner said she uploaded the documents hours before her rent payment was due.

Florida Beach Coast also withdrew a $175 late fee that Renner accrued while attempting to dispute the charges.

“We do not believe Ms. Renner had an incorrect charge,” Sanchez said. “We apologized to her for any miscommunication.”

Although Renner will be required to move out of the home later this month when her three-month lease expires, she said she’s worried Florida Beach Coast will assess other charges before she leaves.

“This whole thing is so unbelievable to me,” Renner said. “I wake up in the morning and think, ‘Is this for real?’”

About the Author:

Emmy Award-winning investigative reporter Mike DeForest has been covering Central Florida news for more than two decades.