If you rent a space to another person in Florida, you enter into a lease, which need not be in writing unless you wish to provide for a term of one year or more.
As a landlord, it is your duty to respect the tenant’s right of possession and use of your property free from interference. You may not enter the home frequently, at odd hours or without notice. You have a right to inspection, but only after a reasonable notice of at least 12 hours. You cannot show the property to possible buyers without notice to, and agreement of the tenant(s).
It is unlawful to increase a tenant’s rent or decrease services to a tenant in a discriminatory manner, or threaten to bring an action for possession or other civil action primarily in retaliation against the tenant. Retaliation may be presumed if it occurs after a tenant has complained about housing conditions.
It is also unlawful to lock the tenant out, intercept or shut off utilities, water or electric services to the tenant, or remove doors, appliances or the tenant’s property from the home. If so, you can be ordered to pay a tenant damages in the amount of three months’ rent, or actual damages, whichever is greater.
“So, how do I terminate the tenancy and evict?”
If there is no written rental agreement or if the lease does not state otherwise and the unit is rented on a month-to-month basis, you must give at least 15 days’ notice in writing before the end of any monthly period. A week-to-week rental period requires seven days’ notice before the end of any weekly period. The notice must be in writing and should be delivered personally to the tenant, but it may be posted at the door if the tenant is absent from the premises.
If the tenant permanently moves out before the end of the rental term and leaves the property vacant, the law presumes abandonment if the tenant is absent for at least 15 days without previously notifying the landlord of an intent to be absent.
After abandonment, you may re-enter the dwelling unit, and you should consider legal advice or assistance. It’s more complicated if the tenant seems to have vacated, but has left personal property on the premises, or if there is a considerable amount of unpaid rent. In such a case, you should consult an attorney before trying to dispose of the tenant’s possessions or re-renting the property.
Another complication occurs when a tenant fails to pay the rent or refuses to move out at the end of the rental term. Here, you may evict the tenant, but only after you have taken the proper legal steps to commence an action for possession according to a very specific timetable.
‘How do I file an eviction in court?”
You must serve a proper 3-Day notice for non-payment of rent or a 7-Day notice for ejection of the tenant to terminate the rental agreement. If the tenant ignores these notices, you are next required to file a complaint in court and have the tenant properly served with a summons and complaint.
Five days after the complaint is served, you may request the court to set a date for a hearing on a motion for default judgment for possession of the property.
However, if the tenant fails to answer the complaint within the five business days or fails to pay the rent that is due, then you can proceed to eviction without having a hearing first, though you must obtain a court order and a writ of possession before evicting the tenant.
If the tenant disputes the amount of rent that is due, the undisputed amount of rent will likely have to be deposited with the court by the tenant and a hearing must be held. If you wish to collect money damages from the tenant, you must wait 20 days to set a hearing on damages.
If the judge agrees at the hearing that the tenant has violated the terms of the agreement, a court order will be issued for judgment and you will file a motion for writ of possession with the court. Once granted, the sheriff will serve a writ of possession notice on the tenant, who then has 24 hours to vacate your property, or the sheriff can remove the tenant and his property.
At the end of the rental term, the property must be returned to you with no damage beyond ordinary wear and tear. The landlord has to account for or refund tenant security deposits upon termination of the tenancy.
Ron Bilu is the managing partner at the Law Offices of Bilu & Bilu in Pompano Beach. He focuses his practice on real estate.