Per Fla. Stat. § 83.40 et. Seq., landlords in Florida have a legal right to evict tenants from their rental properties. The specific eviction process will be detailed below.
Tenants can be ordered to vacate the landlord’s property based on a number of reasons provided by law.
3 ways landlords can evict tenants in Florida
The following are the three most common reasons for initiating an eviction process:
- Tenant failed to pay rent
- The tenant did not follow their lease’s rules (e.g. keeping a cat in their unit when the lease has a strict no pets provision)
- Tenant did not maintain their unit according to the minimum standards set by Florida law. See Fla. Stat. § 83.52.
What landlords can not evict tenants for
All cities in the state of Florida prohibit landlords from using common forms of ‘self-help’ to push their non-paying or ‘problem’ tenants from vacating their units.
These methods include, but are not limited to:
- Removing the tenant’s unit doors
- Changing the tenant’s locks to effectively lock them out of their unit
- Interfering with a tenant’s utilities, including cutting off their main water valve and other actions
Can tenants sue their landlords?
Yes. Their tenants can sue landlords who take any of the above or similar actions for monetary damages or for statutory damages of up to three times their rent.
Winning tenants can also sue for their attorney fees. If they hire a lawyer on contingency, the lawyer can also try suing to recover their fees.
To avoid any of the issues above, landlords must follow the 5 steps below to properly go through an eviction process.
Step #1: Give your tenant proper notice
Tenants cannot be legally ordered to vacate their residential units unless they have been properly notified of the beginning of the eviction process. State law provides for 3 types of notices: 3-day notice, 7-day notice with a chance to ‘cure,’ and an ‘unconditional quit’ 7-day notice.
This notice is given to tenants who didn’t pay their unit’s rent on time. To have any legal effect, your notice to a non-paying tenant must clearly state the exact rent amount due and gives the renter three days to pay up. This 3 day period does not include holidays or weekends.
The notice must say that their tenancy is terminated if the tenant doesn’t pay within three days.
If the tenant fails to pay after the 3-day notice and doesn’t move out, Fla. Stat. § 83.56(3) allows a landlord to start a lawsuit for the eviction process.
7-day notice of lease violation with a chance to ‘cure’
Most leases list terms of occupancy the tenant is supposed to follow. Similarly, there are also tenant obligations required by state law. Landlords send out 7-day notices when the tenant violates these terms.
If the lease terms or statutory obligation violation(s) can be corrected or ‘cured,’ the landlord must give the tenant a 7 day notice with a chance to cure. This type of notice lets the tenant know which lease term(s) they are breaking and that they have a week (7 days) to correct the problem. The notice also lets the tenant know if, after 7 days have passed, the violation continues, this would terminate their tenancy.
If the tenant has not resolved the violation within the 7 day notice period, per Fla. Stat. § 83.56(2)(b), the landlord can go to court to file suit for an eviction process.
Seven-day “Unconditional Quit” notice for uncorrectable lease term violations
According to Fla. Stat. § 83.56(2)(a), tenants can be found to violate lease terms in a way that can’t be cured or corrected. The law provides the landlord with an ‘unconditional quit’ seven-day notice in these situations. This notice spells out the lease terms or statutory provision(s) the tenant violated and tells them to vacate their unit with 7 days or face an eviction lawsuit. Once the 7 days are up, the landlord can go to court to continue with the eviction process.
Other types of notices cover no lease tenants or holdovers
If the tenant hasn’t signed a lease, the landlord can end the tenancy without giving any specific reason. The landlord only has to send proper notice to the tenant, allowing for the number of days provided by Fla. Stat. § 83.57. For instance, month-to-month tenants must be given 15 days to vacate.
Since Florida law does not automatically renew leases when they expire, tenants who continue to rent are considered ‘leaseless.’ Accordingly, the notice process for month-to-month tenants described above, apply to them.
Follow the right method of giving notice to your tenant
According to Florida law Fla. Stat. § 83.56(4)., notices sent to tenants are considered properly delivered if these are hand-delivered, mailed, or, if the tenant isn’t around to receive the notice, leaving a copy of it at the tenant’s residence.
In practical terms, though, many judges require landlords to prove that the tenant actually received notice. This means landlords should use certified mail or require a return receipt when mailing out eviction notices. Still, the best method is to physically deliver the required notice personally. If the tenant isn’t around, landlords must post a conspicuous and hard to ignore notice of eviction at the tenant’s place.
Step #2: Write up your complaint and file your Florida Eviction Lawsuit at your county court
Once a landlord has complied with the necessary notice period of 3 or 7 days, Fla. Stat. § 83.59 enables landlords to file suit for eviction at the county courthouse with jurisdiction over the rental property area.
To file suit, the landlord or their attorney needs to file the following documentation with the county court:
- Complaint for Eviction
- Non-military Affidavit
- A double-stamped addressed envelope for each defendant
What should the complaint contain?
The complaint must give the court all relevant information it needs to order an eviction:
- The landlord’s information
- Location of the property
- The tenant’s violation
- A specific request for eviction of the tenant
Landlords must also attach to the complaint a copy of the lease (if any) and a copy of the notice sent to the tenant.
The summons is the notice sent to the tenant informing them of the lawsuit.
The affidavit of non-military status certifies to the court that the tenant isn’t US military personnel on active duty. Different rules apply to active-duty military personnel.
Most Florida country courthouses require a $185 filing fee. In addition, there’s a $10 additional summon issuance fee for each defendant.
Step #3: Serve the Tenant with the Eviction Complaint and Summons
For the court to get “personal jurisdiction” over a tenant, the eviction summons must be served to the tenant. The county court clerk will send the tenant a copy of the eviction summons and complaint. Plus, a copy of the summons and complaint must be delivered to the tenant in person.
Landlords can either hire a private company or retain the county sheriff for personal process service. Typically, Florida sheriff offices charge between $30 to $50 per tenant to be served.
Process service private companies can charge anywhere from $50 to as much as $100 per named tenant in the summons.
Step #4: Go to your Court Hearing, Win a Judgment and Get A Writ of Possession
Once the tenant’s been served personally with the landlord’s complaint, the tenant has five (5) days to file a response to the complaint in writing at the county clerk’s office. The tenant has to pay the court’s necessary filing fee to respond to the lawsuit.
If the tenant submits a response to the court, a hearing is set up, and a judge will be assigned to hear the eviction case.
Landlords must physically appear on the date and time and show up at the appointed hearing courtroom. Bring whatever evidence (including witnesses who will give testimony) you need to prove your claim.
Expect the court clerk to swear you in and ask you to promise to tell the court the truth. Expect to provide your testimony to the court along with whatever documentary evidence you have that proves your claim. Keep in mind that, at the very least, you are expected to bring a copy of your complaint, the lease the tenant signed, and a copy of the three-day or seven-day notice.
Should you be successful in proving the claims made in your complaint, the judge will issue a legal judgment declaring you the winner of your dispute. This legal document is then given to the county clerk’s office. In turn, the clerk will provide you with a Writ of Possession.
Eviction Process if Tenant does not reply
In the event your tenant doesn’t bother to answer the complaint, once five days pass, file a default judgment motion with the clerk of court. You will be given a motion hearing time and date with the judge slated to hear your case.
Appear at the appointed time and place. If all your paperwork is in order, the judge will conclude the hearing by issuing a judgment awarding you possession of the tenant’s unit. This will be sent to the county clerk, who will then give you a Writ of Possession.
Step #5: Wait for the County Sheriff to Serve the Tenant and Carry out the Writ of Possession
For an eviction to be legal in Florida, the county sheriff’s department must serve your tenant the Writ of Possession and execute it.
You must pay a Writ service and execution fee to your country sheriff’s office ranging between $90 to $115. All writs of possession must include the landlord’s full name and contact number of the land or the information of their authorized agent. The landlord or their authorized agent must meet with Sheriff’s deputies at the premises of the eviction.
Carrying out a Writ of Possession involves two steps: service and execution.
Serving the Tenant
First, the Sheriff’s Deputy must personally deliver a copy of the Writ to your tenant. If the tenant is hiding or can’t be found, the Deputy can just post the Writ on the premises. Generally, writs of possession give tenants 24 hours to leave the premises. In practical terms, Writs usually end up giving tenants between 48 to 72 hours to vacate. This is due to the fact that everyone involved has to coordinate their schedules, and writs can only be executed during normal business hours (cutting out weekends).
Once the deputy posts or personally delivers the Writ, the Deputy will make a phone call to the landlord or their authorized agent to schedule a meet-up at the property. This meeting is set after at least a full 24 hours has passed from the Writ’s delivery or posting.
Ejecting the Tenant
Second, the Deputy executes the Writ. After at least 24 hours after the Writ’s service, the Deputy will then show up at the premises to physically eject the tenant (assuming the tenant is physically there). The Deputy will also stand by (and, if needed, keep the peace) while the landlord installs new locks or takes measures to secure the premises.
If requested by the landlord, the Deputy will enter and check out the property-including opening rooms inside. This is meant to defuse any tensions or prevent potentially dangerous situations caused by hiding tenants who might confront the landlord after the Deputy leaves.
The Deputy is also expected to remain at the premises while the landlord or their authorized representatives remove the tenant’s possessions from the property.
If the tenant has a lot of possessions, the landlord has to make arrangements with movers to quickly take out and remove the tenant’s items from the repossessed property.
Can a Florida Eviction Attorney help you?
Whether you are a landlord or property manager, evictions can be emotionally and physically rough on you. The whole process can be draining since the process is complex, and mistakes can cost you time or money.
For instance, you have to correctly figure out the amount of rent due when giving a 3-day notice. Depending on your lease’s terms, you may or may not include the following in your rent total:
- Late fees
- Insufficient balance bank fees
- Monthly surcharges for pets
- Storage or parking space charges
- Fees for amenities like gym access or pool privileges
If you include any of the fees or charges above in your calculation of ‘rent,’ the eviction hearing judge might invalidate the notice you gave your tenant. Your eviction lawsuit will get dismissed, and you end up having to start all over again from the beginning of the eviction process.
Contact an experienced eviction attorney so you can smoothly and correctly navigate the often confusing eviction process. Save time and gain peace of mind.
How to keep good records
If the tenant disagrees with the eviction request and they reply to the court, it’s essential that you keep extremely good records of everything so you can provide proof to the judge and win your case. This part can make or break your entire eviction request in the event of a dispute.
You can stay organized by:
- Keeping a physical paper trail - This gets VERY hard to search through, takes up a lot of storage space, and could get lost, damaged, stolen, or burnt in a fire.
- Scanning documents - Scan every document into your computer. A great scanner is the Brother ADS-1700W for under $200 or the Fujitsu ScanSnap iX1500 for $400.
- Backups - Store and backup every file using Dropbox, Google Drive, OneDrive, or any other option that is easily searchable.
- PMS - Use a property management software to save everything from lease agreements, signed documents, violations, emails, notes, invoices, payments, reminders, maintenance requests, pictures, videos, and anything you can imagine. This is used best when you also scan every document into your software.
Evidence to show for not paying rent
If the tenant doesn’t pay rent, and they dispute that claim, it’s important that you show the judge the following:
- Your lease agreement - Showing the terms of the agreement, when rent is due, and any penalties for late payment.
- All payments - Showing all previous payments, how they were normally made (check, credit card, ACH, etc…), and what date they were normally paid on.
What is a self-help eviction in Florida?
Examples of illegal “self-help” evictions include, but are not limited to, changing the locks, taking the tenant’s belongings, removing the front door, or turning off the heat or electricity. Many states specify how much money a tenant may be able to sue for if the landlord has tried to illegally evict the tenant through some sort of self-help measure. Some state laws also provide for tenant's court costs and attorneys' fees (if the tenant successfully sues the landlord) and/or give the tenant the right to stay in the rental unit.
Can I force a tenant to move out in Florida?
In almost every state in the US, a landlord must never try to force a tenant to move out of the rental unit. The tenant can only be removed from a rental unit after the landlord has successfully won an eviction lawsuit. Even then, the only person authorized to remove the tenant is a sheriff or constable. Florida law has made it illegal for a landlord to personally remove the tenant from the rental unit.
What are the penalties for a self-help eviction in Florida?
According to Florida Civil Code, you may be liable for Tenant’s Court Costs & Attorneys’ Fees. The statute also gives the tenant the right to stay.
A tenant can sue you for actual damages plus violations. Tenants may ask for an injunction prohibiting any further violation during the court action.
Any other Florida laws to be aware of?
Review the laws on Security Deposits if you collected one. The security deposit protects the landlord if the tenant violates any terms in the lease agreement or causes damage to the unit, property, or common areas.
A landlord should also be aware of any information regarding the COVID-19 Eviction Policies as they are constantly changing.