Florida has very strict laws on evictions. The most common reasons landlords seek evictions of tenants are failure to pay rent and violating the rental agreement. A landlord may terminate the tenancy without cause if there is no written rental agreement, if the rental agreement is considered month-to-month, or if the rental agreement’s term has ended. Regardless of the reason behind the eviction, there are four steps landlords must follow to evict tenants in Florida:
Send a Written Notice to Vacate
The first step in the eviction process is to notify the tenant in writing of the eviction. The tenant will have 3 or 7 days to correct the reason behind the eviction or vacate.
In the case of failure to pay rent, the tenant has three business days to pay the total amount of rent owed or vacate. If the tenant offers to pay the total amount within three days, the landlord must accept it. The landlord does not have to accept a partial amount.
If the tenant violates the rental agreement, the tenant is allowed seven days to correct the violation. If the violation is corrected, nothing further happens. However, if the tenant has another violation within 12 months, they are issued another 7-day notice to vacate. This second time, there is no opportunity to correct the violation.
In cases of wanton and intentional property destruction or misuse, the landlord may issue just one 7-day notice to vacate with no opportunity to correct the violation.
If there is no written rental agreement, the landlord or tenant can end the tenancy at any time without reason. With a month-to-month rental agreement, the landlord must provide the written notice to vacate at least 15 days before the next rent payment is due if rent is due monthly, or at least seven days before the next rent payment if rent is due weekly.
Have Tenant Served With a Summons and Complaint
If the tenant does not respond to the written notice to vacate and does not leave the property, the landlord may sue the tenant for eviction. The landlord will have the tenant served with a Summons and Complaint. The Summons will instruct the tenant to appear in court on a specific date and time, while the Complaint will explain to the tenant why they are being sued. The summons and complaints must be served on the tenant by a local Sheriff’s deputy or an authorized private process server.
Contrary to popular belief, tenants do not always have to be served process in person. If the tenant intentionally evades the deputy or process server, a judge may allow the service of process by substitution or publication. In service by substitution, one copy of the paperwork is left at the tenant’s residence, and another copy is sent via postal mail. In service by publication, the information is posted in the local newspaper for 32 days, assuming the tenant will see it during this time. Even without being served in person, the tenant will be expected to appear in court.
Tenant Answers the Complaint
The tenant is allowed five business days to respond to the Complaint. The response is called an “answer.” The answer to the Complaint must be filed with the Clerk of Court and also mailed to the landlord. If the tenant does not answer the Complaint, the judge will award the landlord with a default judgment and the tenant will be evicted.
When filing the answer, the tenant must pay into the court all rent the landlord claims is owed, unless one of the tenant’s arguments is that rent has already been paid. Throughout the eviction process, the tenant must continue to make weekly or monthly rent payments to the court.
In cases where the landlord and tenant do not agree on the amount of rent owed, the tenant must pay to the court the amount they believe they owe in rent when filing the Complaint answer. The tenant must also file a Motion to Determine the Amount of Rent to be Paid. This motion will signal to the judge that they need to determine the actual amount of rent owed on the court date.
Go to Court
Landlord and tenant are to be present in court, along with their attorneys, on the date and time specified in the Summons. During court, both parties will be allowed to present their arguments and evidence. This date will likely be the only court appearance, so all relevant information, witnesses, and evidence should be in court on that day. If either party does not show up without prior notification, a default judgment is made for the present party.
If the tenant wins in court, they are allowed to stay in the rental property under the terms designated by the court. All rent money paid into the court during the eviction proceedings will be distributed to the landlord, but the landlord may be responsible for paying all court costs along with the tenant’s attorney fees.
If the landlord wins the case, the tenant is issued a final 24-hours writ of possession. The writ of possession will be posted on the tenant’s door by the local sheriff. If the tenant or any of their belongings remain in the property after 24 hours have passed, the sheriff or landlord has the right to forcibly evict the tenant and change the door locks. The landlord may also place a lien on the tenant’s remaining belongings for the amount of rent owed.
Eviction is a stressful and time-consuming process for everyone involved. If you own rental property in southwestern Florida and don’t want to go through the hassle of evicting tenants, call us at (239) 542-6906. Douglas Realty & Property Management has the team and resources necessary to manage your properties effectively and profitably, including through eviction proceedings if necessary.