Serving You and The State of Florida
Florida, like other states, has a strict set of rules that landlords need to adhere to when evicting a tenant. Unfortunately, not all landlords are willing to comply with these rules and may neglect them in an attempt to evict a tenant forcefully.
Landlords dealing with a stubborn tenant may wish to take matters into their own hands to speed up the eviction process. It’s not unheard of for a landlord to change a tenant’s locks or block them from entering the property in another manner. These attempts to make a tenant’s rental property unliveable or inaccessible are known as self-help evictions and are illegal in Florida.
Landlords sometimes attempt to evict a tenant using intimidation tactics, even if the tenant has not violated the lease or failed to pay rent. Self-help evictions also arise as a way to circumvent rent moratorium regulations, such as the one imposed by the CDC in September of 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Whether a tenant is guilty of an infraction or not, the landlord does not have the right to evict them without the proper formalities.
What Type of Action Might be Considered Self-Help?
Self-help eviction is an informal method of getting a tenant to vacate a property. Methods are often adversarial and can include but are not limited to the following.
Shutting Off Utilities
It is illegal for landlords to cut off a tenant’s utilities for non-payment of rent or any other reason, such as a lease violation, in Florida. Landlords who shut off a tenant’s water, electricity, heat, gas, or other utilities as a retaliatory action may face charges.
Locking the Tenant Out of the Property
Stealthily changing the locks on a rental property might seem like a quick fix for getting rid of a stubborn or problematic tenant but changing the locks on a tenant is illegal in Florida. Changing a tenant’s locks can land a landlord in a costlier situation than filing an eviction lawsuit would.
Moving or Damaging the Tenant’s Property
Displacing a tenant’s personal items from a rental unit is illegal in Florida. Moreover, the landlord would have to enter the tenant’s unit without permission to remove items, which is a trespassing offense in itself.
Landlords do not have the right to steal personal items from a tenant to hold them as collateral damage or blackmail the tenant into vacating the property. Even if the tenant has left personal items behind after vacating the property, the landlord must not discard or damage them. They must notify the tenant of the property left behind and follow proper abandoned property law.
Harassing a Tenant
There is a fine line between warranted requests for a tenant to vacate a property and harassment. Landlords have every right to contact a tenant regarding lease violations or overdue rent. They may even have to do so several times before the tenant complies. However, the landlord does not have the right to threaten or blackmail a tenant to get them to vacate the property.
Likewise, landlords do not have the right to follow a tenant to another location to speak about rental issues. If a landlord wishes to discuss a problem, they must contact the tenant formally or set a meeting location with the tenant. Accosting a tenant about rental issues on their own time may constitute harassment.
Landlords should also avoid discussing an ongoing issue with a tenant with any outside parties as they may say something defamatory. Slander or libel against a tenant is illegal in Florida.
Ignoring Requests for Maintenance
Landlords have a legal obligation to keep their rental properties habitable. They must not refuse a tenant’s request for maintenance to drive them out of the property. If a tenant has issues with an appliance or a utility, the landlord must meet the tenant’s demand for maintenance; otherwise, they may be guilty of a self-help eviction offense.
Interfering with Amenities
Like interfering with utilities, a landlord does not have the right to cut off a tenant’s access to any property amenities such as parking spaces or laundry rooms.
What are a Landlord’s Duties When Evicting a Tenant?
Landlords are well within their right to evict a tenant for non-payment of rent or certain lease violations. However, they must take proper precautions and follow state regulations when doing so.
In Florida, it is illegal to evict a tenant without providing them with adequate notice. If a tenant misses a rent payment, the landlord may issue them an eviction notice. The tenant will then have three days to make the rent payment or vacate the property.
If a tenant is guilty of lease violations such as excessive noise complaints, property damage, or keeping an unauthorized pet, the landlord may issue them a notice to comply or quit. The tenant will then have seven days to fix the issue or vacate the premises.
Under any eviction circumstances, landlords should take proper precautions to make sure the tenant receives the notice. Dropping the notice off in person or sending it via certified mail are reliable ways to do so.
If a tenant fails to comply with the landlord’s orders either by remaining in the property or failing to remedy poor behavior, the landlord may not take adverse action against them. Doing so would constitute a self-help eviction and would violate Florida law.
If a tenant refuses to vacate the premises, the landlord may file an eviction suit against them. For an eviction lawsuit to be successful, the landlord must be careful to follow proper formalities and include as much evidence as possible in the case; they will likely want to seek legal counsel.
Tenant’s Rights in an Eviction Situation
Tenants have certain rights and protections under the Florida Residential Landlord-Tenant Act. Rights vary depending on the tenant’s living situation and whether there is an oral or written lease agreement. This does not mean that landlords may negotiate away a tenant’s rights in a lease agreement. The Residential Landlord-Tenant Act overrides lease agreements.
Tenants have a legal right to private, peaceful living in a rental property. The landlord may not enter the tenant’s dwelling without permission or proper notice.
Tenants also have the right to a liveable dwelling. Rental units must be equipped with proper plumbing and heating utilities and proper safety mechanisms such as functioning locks and windows. The rental unit must be clean and pest-free.
These are only preliminary examples of tenants’ rights. To better protect themselves, tenants should familiarize themselves with the contents of the Florida Residential Landlord-Tenant Act.
If your landlord is taking illegal adverse actions against you to get you to quit the lease, you are a victim of self-help eviction and should consider hiring legal counsel to help you recover damages.
How Can I Defend Myself Against Self-Help Evictions?
Knowing your tenant rights is an excellent line of defense when it comes to self-help evictions. Too many tenants fail to recognize illegal behavior from a landlord, especially when they are, in fact, guilty of a lease violation. Regardless of guilt, tenants are still entitled to a lawful and respectful eviction and adequate notice.
If your landlord is harassing you and making your dwelling uninhabitable, let them know that you are aware of your rights and will pursue legal action if their illicit behavior continues. In most cases, this is enough to deter the landlord. You may also be able to raise the issue with a tenants’ association if one is available to you. If you do so, make sure to hold on to any formal letters or correspondence as evidence of the incident.
If the landlord continues to harass you, seek legal counsel and file a lawsuit against them. Too many tenants dismiss the idea of hiring legal counsel as they believe they will not be able to afford it.
Remember that if you have a solid case against the landlord, your legal fees will likely be covered. For this reason, it’s important to document as much evidence of the incident as possible.
Suing a Landlord for Self-help Eviction
In Florida, tenants are allowed to sue a landlord for self-help offenses and recover damages. Tenants can recover money or request to remain at the rental property and for the landlord to stop any adverse behavior towards them. Tenants may also request the return of any items the landlord illegally apprehended from them; this is known as replevin.
You will need to clearly state your desired outcome. If you are bringing legal action against your landlord for illegal eviction, be sure to note that you are suing them under section 83.67 of the Florida Statutes.
According to section 83.67 of the Florida Statutes, landlords guilty of self-help evictions are liable to pay the tenant for actual, consequential damages or three month’s rent, whichever is greater. They may also have to cover the tenant’s attorney and litigation fees.
Actual damages are any costs you incurred as a tenant outside of rent as a result of the illegal eviction. If your landlord changed the locks on you and you were forced to stay at a hotel as a result, you may be able to recover the amount you paid from your landlord. Similarly, if the landlord damaged any of your personal property during the eviction, you can sue them for the value of the items.
Tenants are entitled to separate damages for each violation against them. If your landlord has made several different offenses, you are entitled to the actual damages or three months’ rent for each individual occurrence.
Where you file a suit will depend on the amount you are claiming. If you are seeking compensation under $5,000, you can file suit with a small claims court. Claims between $5,000 and $15,000 should be filed with a county court, and any claims exceeding $15,000 will need to be filed with a circuit court.
When to Hire an Attorney
If you are a landlord struggling with an unwilling tenant, always consider hiring legal counsel before attempting to remedy the issue yourself. Whether you know it or not, you may end up committing a self-help eviction, which might end up costing you more.
Likewise, if you are a tenant facing unlawful eviction, hire an attorney to help you take action against your landlord. The more you are trying to recover, the more that is at stake, and the more important legal counsel becomes. If your landlord has damaged any of your belongings or interfered in your life, an experienced attorney can help you recover the costs.
Let us Handle your Self-help Eviction Lawsuit
Self-help evictions can be distressing for a tenant, especially when things become personal. If you are a tenant facing unlawful eviction in Florida, call the Lopez Law Group at 727-933-0015 today. Our attorneys are ready to review your case.
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