My firm and I are not really in the business of working on all personal injury cases, just the ones where we can really make a difference. Making a difference not only in the lives of our clients who are forever changed in most every way, but also making a difference in the defendant. Whether the defendant be a careless driver, negligent physician, or even a greedy business putting profits before their product or service. I also think, can we make a difference for the betterment of our community even if its one case at a time? If the answer is yes, then I want to be in that case, working for that client making sure we change their lives for the better, impact our community and all the while making our own lives more fulfilling by just knowing we helped.
Recently, my firm was asked for help with a bully landlord. Obviously, this is not our firm’s main mission since there was no injury involved. But as I started to listen to this client, it became clear to me that for decades this landlord had been stealing money from his tenants and ignoring Florida law. He was using threatening letters to intimidate tenants for years and rarely, if ever, refunding security deposits. When we started doing investigation into this person we discovered tenants for years and years were being treated exactly the same way. I discovered a true menace to our community and despite the fact that I might lose more money than I would make, I decided to get behind this case and stop this jerk.
Here is his picture, his name is Paul Tinsley. This guy, over the years, has basically taken nearly every one of his tenants security deposits and just considered them additional rent. For nearly 20 years, over the course of nearly 30 rental properties, he has chosen to not use the legal Florida lease agreement but instead used his own version of a lease, an illegal lease in Florida. The reason he chose this lease was that it omitted all of the required language about how a landlord would handle security deposits.
He and his wife basically engaged in fraud and civil theft, making up reasons to retain deposits from all types of tenants, most of which could not afford them to do these things. Anyway, his calculation was that if he threatened to sue people when they left, which he did nearly every time, they would be scared to come after him for their deposits. He calculated that none of these folks who had less resources than him would pay the money to come after him for their deposits. So, he took and took year after year. Then we decided it was time to end this bully practice.
So we sued him in Escambia County Circuit Court. We alleged fraud and civil theft and started taking depositions. He dismissed this as a case about one security deposit and not worth his time or the court’s time. He was correct that at issue was one security deposit of around three thousand dollars. What Bully Tinsley didn’t factor into his calculation was the fact that the law in Florida actually permits us to ask the court to permit punitive damages for cases where the defendant acts intentionally or wantonly. So, after we got security sworn testimony from several other witnesses that said he nearly always kept deposits and refused to follow Florida law with his leases, the judge allowed us to ask for punitive damages.
We took him all the way through trial and received a verdict in the amount of $41,000.00. This included nearly $25,000.00 in punitive damages calculated to deter this bully from being a thief in the future. Perhaps the even more comforting is that fact that the Court is also considering awarding lawyer fees to my client which will be an extremely costly figure for this Sleezebag landlord. Of course, he wrote his own appeal that is currently pending with the First District Court of Appeal.
If you or someone close to you has been the victim of this Tinsley character, please let me know as I would be happy to serve him a bit of justice again.