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What is Non-compliance Eviction?
Non-compliance eviction occurs when a tenant violates the terms of the lease agreement in a manner other than non-payment of rent. If a tenant is guilty of property damage, noise complaints, or other violations, the landlord has grounds to evict them from the property. However, state eviction regulations apply. In Florida, a tenant issued a non-compliance eviction notice has seven days to rectify the issue.
What Constitutes Non-compliance?
Non-compliance refers to lease agreement violations outside of failing to pay rent. Non-compliance violations can include but are not limited to:
- Excessive noise complaints
- Keeping an unauthorized pet in the rental property
- Subletting without the landlord’s permission
- Property Damage
- Unauthorized renovations or alterations to the property
- Failure to maintain the property (i.e., landscaping and shoveling)
- Keeping long-term guests or roommates in the property, exceeding the maximum occupancy.
- Illegal activity in the property
Tenants guilty of illegal activity on the leased property must be issued an Illegal Activity Notice to Quit. A Notice to Quit due to illegal activity is non-negotiable, and the tenant must vacate the premises in order to avoid an eviction lawsuit.
What is a Notice to Comply or Quit?
A Notice to Comply or Quit is a document that notifies a tenant of lease violations unrelated to rent. It effectively orders the tenant to change their behavior or “quit” the lease, meaning they vacate the property.
Evicting a Tenant on the Grounds of Non-compliance
Eviction processes vary by state. Landlords should perform a preliminary search of their state’s regulations to ensure they perform a lawful eviction.
To evict a tenant for non-compliance in Florida, landlords must first access the Notice to Comply or Quit form. Landlords can download and print the documents online.
The Notice to Comply or Quit should detail the following information:
- The nature of the landlord/tenant relationship
- Original lease date
- Notice period
- A full description of the violation
- The landlord’s signature
- A certificate of service to be completed by the sender
To ensure the tenant receives the notice, landlords should send eviction notices via certified mail or drop them off in person. Sending the notice via certified mail will require the tenant to certify that they have received the notice with their signature.
If possible, landlords should speak to the tenant directly to discuss plans for resolving non-compliance issues. They should set a date for an inspection where they can assess whether the tenant has indeed met their requests. Landlords can perform an inspection once the notice period has expired and the tenant has been notified of the inspection. As a rule of thumb, landlords should give 48-hours’ notice before performing a property inspection.
If the landlord finds that the tenant has failed to mediate the issue upon inspection, the landlord may order them to vacate the property immediately. If the tenant refuses to leave, the landlord may begin eviction proceedings.
Evicting a tenant for non-compliance follows the same procedures as most evictions. If the tenant has not vacated the property or resolved their violation by the time the notice period ends, the landlord may file a complaint with the court and serve the tenant with a summons.
Filing a complaint launches an eviction lawsuit against the tenant who refuses to comply. Complaints can make or break an eviction case, so it’s essential to include as much detail and be as accurate as possible in the complaint. If possible, have an attorney help you write your complaint to avoid it being dismissed or contested in court.
In general, complaints should include:
- Landlord/tenant relationship
- Nature of the lease, whether written or oral
- Details of the lease violation, including how and when a Notice to Comply or Quit was issued.
- Proof that the tenant has yet to vacate the property
- Landlord’s desired outcome. If the landlord seeks financial compensation and the tenant vacates the premises, they should include it in their complaint.
Include as much evidence as possible in the complaint. If you have a hard copy of the lease or any other relevant documents, attach them to the complaint.
Can a Complaint be Contested?
Complaints that fail to meet standards can be contested by the defendant and subsequently dismissed. Suppose there are any errors or omissions in the complaint. In that case, it may be dismissed before it reaches trial, rendering all of the landlord’s efforts futile and exhaustive and leading to an ongoing situation with the tenant.
If the complaint is defective, the defending tenant can file a motion to dismiss the complaint on the basis that the landlord:
- Failed to join indispensable parties
- Was unable to provide a copy of the lease on which the eviction is based
- Terminated the lease illegitimately
- Issued the eviction notice improperly
It is especially risky to file an unsatisfactory complaint if the tenant has hired an attorney. An attorney who knows eviction regulations well can easily poke holes in a false complaint. And in Florida, losing parties often have to cover the winning party’s legal fees. If you have any reservations about your complaint’s strength, hire an attorney to look over it if possible.
Can a Tenant be Wrongfully Evicted for Non-compliance?
Wrongful non-compliance evictions are rare but can occur whether or not the tenant has genuinely violated the lease.
In some cases, tenants who violated their lease terms may still be victims of wrongful eviction if the landlord breaches state eviction regulations. A landlord cannot simply boot a tenant from the property. They must follow state procedures and file the necessary paperwork to evict a tenant lawfully. If a landlord is guilty of any of the following, the tenant may file a wrongful eviction lawsuit against them:
- Failing to provide adequate notice of the eviction
- Removing any of the tenant’s belongings from the property
- Changing the locks on the rental property
- Cutting off utilities to the property
Similarly, the landlord may be guilty of harassing the tenant, whether or not the tenant violated the lease. A landlord is guilty of harassment if they:
- Cut off or interfere with the tenant’s utilities, including electricity or water.
- Enter the tenant’s property without notice or consent
- Allow others into the property without notice or consent
- Gossip about the tenant, thus violating their rights
- Follow a tenant to a location other than the rental property, such as a workplace, to discuss rental issues
What are the Consequences of Wrongful Eviction?
Wrongfully evicted tenants have the option to take their landlord to court. If the landlord failed to follow proper eviction guidelines, the tenant might have a solid case against them that can be costly for the landlord.
Evictions can cost a landlord thousands of dollars in legal fees. In addition to their own legal costs, a wrongful eviction might mean the landlord has to pay even more to the defending tenant. If the tenant wins the wrongful eviction case, the landlord may have to pay for the tenants:
- Attorney fees
- Litigation costs
- Punitive damages (subject to state regulation)
- Repayment of security deposit
In grave situations, tenants can also file civil claims against their landlord. A civil claim might include offenses such as assault, battery, and trespassing.
If a landlord is dealing with a particularly stubborn tenant, they may choose to take matters into their own hands; this is known as self-help eviction. Self-help eviction is an informal method of evicting a tenant and is unlawful. Self-help eviction methods can include:
- Locking the tenant out of their apartment
- Moving the tenant’s belongings from the property
- Cutting off heat, electricity, gas, water, and other services
- Ordering or threatening the tenant to vacate the property without proper formalities taken
- Slander or libel against the tenant
- Harassing the tenant until they leave
- Ignoring the tenant’s requests for maintenance
- Interfering with property amenities such as blocking access to parking spaces
What Can I Do if My Landlord is Wrongfully Evicting Me?
Always remember your rights as a tenant. Even if you are guilty of violating the lease agreement, you are still entitled to a lawful eviction. Your landlord must abide by state laws and regulations. If you feel that your landlord has acted unlawfully, you can take the following steps to protect yourself and receive compensation if a lawsuit arises.
The first and most obvious step is to raise the issue with the landlord directly. If they are harassing you, threatening you, or committing any other offense, such as attempting to evict you without proper notice, inform them that their actions are unlawful and request that the behavior stop. Let them know that you are aware of your rights as a tenant and will pursue legal action if necessary.
If your rental property has a tenants’ association, you can raise the issue with them by writing a formal letter. Even if the landlord’s poor behavior continues, the formal letter can be used as hard evidence if you decide to take the landlord to court.
If your landlord refuses to change their behavior, consider hiring an attorney and taking them to court. As mentioned, if you have a solid case against your landlord, you can recover damages, and your attorney fees may be covered. You may also be able to remain at your rental property if you wish to do so.
If you are thinking of filing a lawsuit against your landlord, be sure to document as much about the incident as possible. Hold on to any messages or letters between the two of you and write out the wrongful behavior as it happens. That way, you’ll have a clear account of the incident to fall back on if you happen to forget anything. Include any other relevant documents such as letters to tenants’ associations.
Should I Hire an Attorney to Help with Eviction?
Regardless of what side of the debate you are on, hiring an attorney is a sure way to strengthen your case and ensure you don’t lose out on compensation. It is crucial to hire an attorney if the other party has done so themselves. Otherwise, you will have a fragile line of defense.
In some cases, your lawyer may be able to craft a defense argument of which you would not have been aware. As a tenant, it’s difficult to know every defense possible, especially when you are already enduring a stressful time. An attorney may be able to recognize discriminatory or retaliatory behavior.
Likewise, a busy landlord may overlook a possible argument that would strengthen their case against a problematic tenant. Hiring an attorney will help ensure landlords compile as much evidence as possible to win their case.
Eviction Attorneys in Florida
Evictions don’t always go smoothly. If you are a landlord or tenant dealing with an ongoing eviction dispute, call the Lopez Law Group today at 727-933-0015 for a case evaluation. Our St. Petersburg landlord attorneys and tenant attorneys are ready to review your case and guide you through complicated litigation processes.
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