Buying a rental property can be a great investment – but it can also be quite a headache. If you’re lucky, you’ll get great tenants who pay rent on time and take great care of the unit. If you’re unlucky, you’ll have tenants who do things like refuse to move out at the end of the lease.
If a tenant won’t leave when the lease is up, then a landlord can evict them. To do so, a landlord must follow a legal process to obtain a writ of possession. Evicting a tenant on your own – even if they have no legal right to be on your property – is illegal in Florida.
At the Lopez Law Group, we are skilled in all aspects of landlord-tenant law. We will work with you to help you find a solution to your property management issues, whether you need help drafting a lease or with an eviction when your tenant is violating their lease. Reach out today to schedule a consultation with a St. Petersburg landlord-tenant attorney.
What Happens If a Tenant Refuses to Vacate at the End of a Lease Term?
In Florida, the Landlord-Tenant Law covers most aspects of rental relationships – including what a landlord can do if a tenant refuses to leave when a lease term expires. If a tenant holds over after the rental agreement expires, the landlord can recover possession of the unit through a legal process known as right of action for possession.
As explained in greater detail below, a right of action for possession requires that a landlord follow certain steps. “Self-help evictions” – such as changing the locks – are illegal under Florida law. You must follow the specific process set out by Florida law in order to legally evict a tenant, even if they no longer have a valid lease.
Landlords do not have to give notice to tenants that they are not renewing a fixed-term lease unless the lease states otherwise. They can simply not renew the lease. The tenant will then be required to move out once the lease term has concluded. For example, if you have a 12-month lease with a tenant that expires at the end of March and you did not renew the lease, then your tenant must vacate the premises on March 31 This is true even if you didn’t specifically give them notice to vacate.
Of course, it usually is a good idea to provide some type of notice to your tenant. If they don’t ask about renewing the lease – and you don’t want to renew it – then it makes sense to send them a letter or leave a note on their door to let them know that they will be required to leave at the end of the lease term. Although this is not required by law – and may not be required by the lease itself – it can help avoid these situations.
Sometimes, no matter how much notice you provided, a tenant will refuse to leave the unit when the lease expires. In this situation, you will have to take formal legal action to remove them. A landlord-tenant attorney in Florida can assist you with the process.
How Can I Legally Remove a Tenant If They Refuse to Leave?
If a rental agreement has been terminated or has expired, then the only way that a landlord can legally remove a tenant is through an eviction lawsuit. The first step in the process is filing a complaint for evictions, a summons, and a non-military affidavit at the local courthouse. A non-military affidavit is required because there are different rules that apply to evictions involving servicemembers.
The complaint should include the name and contact information for the landlord, the property location, the reason that the tenant is being asked to vacate, and a specific request to evict the tenant. A copy of the lease should be attached to the complaint. Because an eviction notice is not required in this situation, you will not be required to include proof that you sent a notice to the tenant.
Next, a copy of the lawsuit and the summons must be served on the tenant by the sheriff or another authorized process server. Once the tenant receives these documents, they will have 5 days to respond to the complaint. If they don’t file a response (answer), then the landlord can obtain a writ of possession through a default judgment.
If the tenant does file an answer, then the judge will schedule a hearing where each side will have an opportunity to make arguments and present evidence. Unlike many eviction actions, where a tenant may have a defense (such as failure to maintain the property), there are few defenses to an eviction in this situation. However, if a landlord did not follow the proper procedure in seeking the eviction – such as failing to properly serve the complaint – then it may be a defense to the eviction action.
If the landlord is successful, then the judge will issue a judgment of possession along with a writ of possession. The writ will be given to the sheriff, who will post it on the tenant’s door. This writ gives the tenant 24 hours to vacate the premises. If they fail to do so, then they can be forcibly evicted and the door can be padlocked, even if the tenant’s possessions are still in the unit.
This process is technical and requires strict adherence to the rules. For this reason, it is important to work with an experienced Florida landlord-tenant lawyer who can advise you of your rights and guide you through the process. Your attorney can also draft the necessary paperwork, make sure that the tenant is served properly, and represent you in court.
How the Lopez Law Group Can Help
When you’re a landlord, dealing with tenants can be challenging. Even when you have the law on your side, it can still be difficult to remove a tenant if they refuse to leave. Our law firm can help you navigate the legal process and ensure that the eviction is done in accordance with Florida law.
Based in St. Petersburg, the Lopez Law Group represents both landlords and tenants throughout the greater Tampa-St. Pete region. We will help you understand your rights and will advise you of your legal options for pursuing an eviction or other legal action. To learn more or to schedule a consultation with a Florida landlord-tenant attorney, fill out our online contact form or give us a call at 727-933-0015.