Dealing with a Problem Tenant or Unwelcome House Guest
By: J. Matthew Kelly, Esq.
Clark, Campbell, Lancaster & Munson, P.A.
Are you dealing with a problem tenant or an unwelcome house guest? If so, Florida law provides three mechanisms for removing an individual from possession of real property – eviction, unlawful detainer, and ejectment.
The most common way to remove an individual from possession of real property is an eviction proceeding. An eviction proceeding in Florida is governed by Chapter 83 of the Florida Statutes. An eviction is the appropriate proceeding to remove an individual who leased the premises but has violated the lease or has failed to pay rent.
The most common eviction example is against a tenant who has failed to pay rent. In a situation where a tenant has failed to pay rent, the first step in the eviction proceeding is to provide the tenant with a three-day notice. This is a document designed to inform the tenant that he has failed to pay rent and is indebted to the landlord. The three-day notice has certain legal requirements as to its content and method of delivery. If the three-day notice is defective in content or delivery it can significantly delay any eviction proceeding.
Once a three-day notice has been delivered, the tenant has three days (excluding weekends and legal holidays) to pay the demanded rent or to vacate the premises. If the tenant fails to pay the rent, or vacate the premises, the landlord may then file an eviction complaint with the court. Once a tenant is served with an eviction complaint, the tenant has five days to answer the complaint. If the tenant fails to answer the complaint the landlord can seek a default judgment; which would avoid the need for a trial. If a default occurs, the landlord can move for a final judgment and writ of possession to restore them to possession of the property.
If a tenant chooses to contest or defend against the eviction proceeding for grounds other than that the rent has been paid, the tenant is required to pay into the registry of the court alleged rent owed as described in the complaint. If the tenant fails to pay the alleged rent owed, or fails to challenge the rent amount, the tenant waives his defenses and the landlord is entitled to a default judgment in the eviction proceeding and a writ of possession to restore the landlord to possession of the property. A successful landlord is entitled to recover his reasonable attorney’s fees expended in the eviction process.
An unlawful detainer action is governed by Chapter 82 of the Florida Statutes. An unlawful detainer action can be used to remove an individual who is residing in a home, does not have a legal right to the home, and where there was never a lease agreement. The person bringing the unlawful detainer action must have a legal right to the residence or property; that is to say, the person bringing the action must own the property or be the legal tenant of the property.
The most common uses of this type of action involve a significant other who has moved in but a break-up occurs and the significant other refuses to leave, removal of a troubled family member who was invited in to get back on their feet but fails to obey house rules, removal of a friend who was once a welcome guest but has now refused to leave, or even squatters that have moved into a residence without permission.
Unlike an eviction, an action for unlawful detainer does not require specific notices prior to being able to file the action with the court. Like an eviction, an action for unlawful detainer requires the person you are attempting to remove to respond in five days.
The important thing to remember with an unlawful detainer action is that there must not be a landlord-tenant relationship or an agreement for payment of rent. If this kind of relationship exists an eviction proceeding is the proper mechanism for removal.
An ejectment action is governed by Chapter 66 of the Florida Statutes. An ejectment action is most commonly used in a similar manner to an unlawful detainer action. Like an unlawful detainer action, ejectment is commonly aimed at girlfriends, boyfriends, family members, friends, or other individuals who have overstayed their welcome where there is no landlord-tenant relationship.
There are two main distinctions between an ejectment action and unlawful detainer action. Ejectment actions are not summary proceedings, meaning ejectment may take longer to reach the goal of removal compared to an eviction or unlawful detainer action. Secondly, an ejectment is the appropriate action when the individual you are attempting to remove may claim some form of entitlement to the property. An example of this would be where the person you are attempting to remove claims some form of ownership of the property.
Florida law provides numerous mechanisms for removal of problem tenants or unwelcome house guests. It can often be difficult to determine which type of action is best for your situation. It is also easy to hit roadblocks throughout the removal process that can significantly delay any removal. If you are faced with taking legal action to remove an individual from your property I recommend hiring an experienced attorney to guide the process.
Matthew Kelly is an attorney with the law firm Clark, Campbell, Lancaster & Munson, P.A. in Lakeland. Questions can be submitted to firstname.lastname@example.org.
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