Unlawful Detainer Action in Florida

Unlawful Detainer Action in Florida

At some point in your life, you may have decided to let someone move in with you. Everything may have been fine – until you ask them to leave and they refuse to go. You may be wondering what exactly your rights are – how do you get someone to leave your home when they have no legal right to be there?

The solution in this situation is to file an unlawful detainer action. This process is different from an eviction, which is used when a landlord seeks to evict a tenant. This is a civil legal action that allows you to obtain a court order to have a person removed from property that you lease or own when they don’t have any legal right to be there.

The Lopez Law Group represents individuals throughout the greater Tampa Bay area who are dealing with property-related issues. Whether you are a landlord seeking to evict a tenant or a person trying to get squatters off of their property, we can help. Reach out today to schedule a consultation with an unlawful detainer lawyer in Florida.

What Is an Unlawful Detainer Action?

An unlawful detainer action is a legal method to remove a person from a property who has no right to be there. It may be necessary in a number of different situations, such as if a squatter moved into a vacant property and refuses to leave. It can even be used if a relative, friend, or romantic partner lives in a property without a lease or rental agreement and won’t leave when asked to do so.

For example, consider a case where a couple, Mary and John, is residing together in an apartment that was leased by Mary. John is not on the lease. When Mary finds out that John has been cheating on her, she tells him to pack his stuff and go – but he says no. In this situation, Mary will need to file an unlawful detainer action to get John removed from the property. 

Importantly, you don’t have to own the property to file an unlawful detainer action. You simply have to have the legal right to occupy it, such as through a lease. The critical aspect is that you seek to remove someone who has been residing there without any legal right to do so (even if they may have had your permission to live there in the past).

Under Florida law, this type of situation is resolved through a civil legal process known as an unlawful detainer. While you may be tempted to call the police to have a person removed, law enforcement is not obligated to do so. It is considered a civil legal matter, so you must go to the court to get an order to have them removed.

Is Unlawful Detainer the Same as an Eviction?

Unlawful detainer is a different process than eviction. It can only be used when the person being removed from the property has no rights to it. With unlawful detainer, there is no lease and the property owner is not the landlord.

Eviction is a specific legal process that is used in situations where the person occupying the property has a residential or commercial lease. The landlord cannot engage in self-help eviction (such as changing the locks). Instead, if there is a basis for evicting the tenant(s), such as nonpayment of rent, the landlord must provide written notice and then file a formal petition for eviction in court. 

Another legal process, ejectment, must be used if the person in question claims to have some legal right to the property. A common example of when ejectment is necessary is after a foreclosure when the previous owner refuses to leave. Alternatively, ejectment may be necessary if you seek to have a person removed from your property through unlawful detainer, but they claim that you had some type of agreement to rent or buy the property.

To recap:

  • Unlawful detainer actions are filed when the person refusing to vacate has no legal right to the property;
  • Evictions are filed when the individual has a lease; and
  • Ejectment actions are filed when the person does not have a lease but claims some right or interest in the property.

Do I Need a Lawyer to File for Unlawful Detainer in Florida?

You are not required to hire an attorney for an unlawful detainer action in Florida. However, the process involves multiple steps, including:

  1. Writing a letter to ask the person to vacate the premises; it is common to give them 3 days’ notice to leave.
  2. Complete the unlawful detainer complaint and unlawful detainer summons forms.
  3. File the paperwork with the Clerk of Court in the county court where the property is located.
  4. Serve the complaint on the defendant (the person you are seeking to remove) via the Sheriff’s Office or a certified process server.
  5. Depending on the defendant’s response, you will either need to file (1) a request for a hearing if they answered the complaint; (2) a notice of voluntary dismissal if they leave the property; (3) or a motion for default, motion for default judgment and final judgment for unlawful detainer if they do not respond.
  6. Attend a hearing to obtain a judgment, if necessary.

This process can be relatively straightforward if the person in question leaves the property after being served or does not respond. However, if you have to go to a hearing, the burden of proof will be on you to introduce evidence that the person does not have a legal right to reside on the property. Simply telling your story is not enough; you will need to provide admissible evidence to get a judgment in your favor. 

An experienced Florida unlawful detainer lawyer can help you with this legal action. They can also advise you on how to handle the situation if the individual is claiming that they have a lease or otherwise have a right or interest in the property. Ultimately, working with an attorney can ensure that the person is lawfully removed and can reduce the likelihood that the individual will be able to successfully contest your attempt to remove them.

Need to File an Unlawful Detainer? We Can Help.

In an ideal world, a person who doesn’t have a right to be on your property would simply leave when asked to do so. Unfortunately, it is often necessary to pursue legal action to protect your rights as a renter or property owner.

Based in St. Petersburg, the Lopez Law Group represents individuals and businesses in Pinellas, Hillsborough, Sarasota, Manatee, Polk, and Pasco Counties. We will work with you to help you resolve a dispute related to property rights in the most cost-effective and efficient way possible. To learn more or to schedule a consultation with a Florida unlawful detainer attorney, give us a call at 866-235-9480 or fill out our online contact form.


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