Eviction Process for Landlords in Florida

Florida Attorneys

Serving You and The State of Florida

If you own a rental property, then there is a good chance that you have encountered a problem tenant at some point. They might have broken the lease rules, not paid rent, or even destroyed your property. While you may be tempted to just change, there are certain steps that you must follow before you can legally evict a tenant.

As an initial matter, you must be evicting a tenant for a legal, non-discriminatory reason. You must then provide sufficient notice, and in some cases, give the tenant an opportunity to cure (fix) the problem. Finally, you will have to file an eviction complaint in court and get an order from a judge before you can lawfully remove a tenant.

Evicting a tenant is a technical legal process. At the Lopez Law Group, we work with residential and commercial landlords to help ensure that their interests are protected, from drafting and negotiating a rental agreement to handling evictions. To learn more, reach out to our law firm to talk to a St. Petersburg eviction attorney.

Terminating a Tenancy

Generally, you can end a tenancy for cause or without cause. Terminating a tenancy without cause essentially just means that the lease or rental period has ended, and you are choosing to not renew the lease. You do not have to go through the steps of an eviction if you simply do not want to continue to rent to a tenant any longer.

Terminating for cause means that you have a reason to end the lease agreement. This could be for any number of reasons, such as the tenant violating the rental agreement, non-payment of rent, subletting the unit without permission, causing a public nuisance, or breaking the law. 

However, you cannot terminate a lease agreement for an illegal or discriminatory reason – such as evicting them in retaliation for reporting a housing code violation or because you learned that they are gay. If you try to evict a tenant for a discriminatory or illegal reason, then you could find yourself in hot water with both the state and federal government – in addition to potentially having to pay damages to the tenant.

If you are evicting a tenant for a legal reason, then you will be required to provide them with an eviction notice. The amount of time that is required before you will file an eviction petition will depend on the reason that you are attempting to evict them:

  • Non-payment of rent: a tenant must be given a 3-day notice to pay rent or quit (leave the premises). 
  • A lease violation that can be fixed: the tenant must be given a 7-day notice to cure. For example, if a tenant brings a pet into a no-pet apartment – and it isn’t a service or emotional support animal – then you could give them a 7-day notice to cure. If they don’t find another home for the pet within that time, then you could file for eviction.
  • A lease violation that cannot be fixed: the tenant must be given a 7-day unconditional quit notice. This can only be used in situations where a tenant intentionally destroys the rental property or other tenants’ property, creates unreasonable disturbances, or repeats the same lease violation within a 1 year period. The tenant does not have a chance to cure the issue.

The notice period does not include weekends or legal holidays. A proper notice must be sent via certified mail to the tenant, or a copy can be left at the rental if they no longer live there.If a tenant does not fix the problem (if possible) or move by the deadline, then the landlord can file an eviction lawsuit

Importantly, landlords in Florida cannot engage in what is known as self-help eviction. You cannot change the locks, shut off utilities, or remove a tenant’s possessions to force them to leave. Self-help evictions are illegal and can result in you having to pay the tenant monetary damages.

The Step-By-Step Eviction Process

Once the eviction notice period has elapsed, you can file an eviction complaint if the tenant hasn’t paid rent or otherwise cured the issue (if that is an option for them). This requires drafting a legal document known as a complaint or a petition that contains basic information such as your name and contact information, the tenant’s name and contact information, and the address of the rental property. You will want to include supporting evidence, such as a copy of the eviction notice and the lease agreement.

The eviction lawsuit should be filed in the Circuit Court in the County where the property is located. For example, if your rental property is in St. Petersburg, then the lawsuit will be filed in the Pinellas County Circuit Court. You will also need to pay a filing fee, which is $185 for eviction only, $300 for eviction plus a claim for damages of up to $15,000, and $500 for eviction plus damages over $15,000.

The tenant must be served with a copy of the eviction lawsuit, which may be done through a process server. The tenant then has 5 days to contest the eviction. If they fail to do so, then you can seek a default judgment from the court. 

If the tenant contests the lawsuit, then they will file what is known as an answer. In this document, they will list any eviction defenses or reasons that they should not be evicted.  For example, they might argue that they got current on rent after receiving a 3-day notice to pay rent or quit. When a tenant contests an eviction, it will typically take longer to get possession of the rental property.

The court will schedule a hearing for contested evictions. At the hearing, the parties will present evidence and testimony, and make arguments to support their case. The judge will then make a ruling. If the tenant does not show up in court, then the judge will issue a default judgment.

If the landlord wins the eviction action, then the judge will issue a document known as a writ of possession. With a writ of possession, the tenant has 24 hours to vacate the property. If they refuse to do so, then the County Sheriff can forcibly evict them. Importantly, even with a writ of possession, you cannot remove a tenant yourself – you must go through the legal process.

Florida’s eviction laws are complicated, and they often seem to favor tenants. They are also technical and require an understanding of the law. Even small errors – like failing to put a date on a notice of eviction – could result in your eviction case being unsuccessful. A St. Petersburg eviction lawyer can work with you to ensure that your eviction is done properly and that you can gain possession of your property once again.

What Do You Do If a Tenant Leaves Personal Property Behind?

If a tenant abandons the property after vacating the premises, then the landlord is required to provide them with notice before disposing of the property. The notice must describe the property in detail, advise that the landlord might charge the tenant for storage, state where the property can be claimed, and provide a deadline of at least 10 to 15 days by which the property must be claimed.

If the tenant does not claim the property by the end of the notice period, a landlord can sell or dispose of the property.  A landlord cannot do this unless they have provided the proper notice first. Reach out to the Lopez Law Group for additional information on landlord-tenant laws from a St. Petersburg landlord attorney.

What Happens If You Make a Mistake During the Eviction Process?

If you make an error in some part of the eviction – such as by giving too short of a notice period or failing to properly serve a tenant with the notice or an eviction action – then it could be used by the tenant as an eviction defense. It may delay your ability to get a writ of possession and to retake possession of your property.

To avoid errors – and reduce the risk of a costly legal battle – your best option is to work with a St. Petersburg eviction lawyer. We will handle the paperwork, court filings, court hearings, and more on your behalf. Contact the Lopez Law Group today to schedule a consultation before you file a complaint for eviction.

How the Lopez Law Group Can Help

While there are a lot of advantages to owning investment properties, dealing with tenants can definitely be a downside. Whether a tenant is engaging in illegal activities, breaking the lease, or not paying rent, there is a process that must be followed in order to evict them – starting with a proper notice period based on the reason for the eviction.

The Lopez Law Group has significant experience in all types of landlord-tenant disputes. We work directly with landlords as well as with property managers to help them understand their legal rights and to handle legal issues like evictions as they arise. To learn more or to schedule a consultation, give us a call at 727-933-0015 or fill out our online contact form.

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