Every day in Florida, there is a residential tenant dealing with a landlord who has committed an illegal act all in the name of the almighty dollar. Because landlords are still finding ways to harm tenants, the Florida legislature wrote and continues to write law to protect tenants from these illegal acts.
In fact, the “Florida Residential Landlord and Tenant Act” is so detailed as to what a landlord must do and shall not do that some have argued the law is one-sided in favor of the residential tenant.
One positive aspect of the act is that the most important protections relate to security deposits and illegal evictions and these laws are mandatory in nature; meaning, the landlord has to follow the law, otherwise he or she can be held to financially account to the tenant, including paying their attorney fees.
3 Florida Laws That Protect Residential Renter’s From Illegal Evictions
The three specific Florida Statutes that help to protect tenants from the bad acts of landlords are:
Florida Statute 83.60 – relating to defenses to a lawsuit for rent or possession of the tenant’s home or apartment;
Florida Statute 83.64 – relating to retaliatory conduct by a landlord; and
Florida Statute 83.67 – relating to prohibited practices by a landlord (see below).
All residential renters should be aware of these laws and the protections they give to tenants. A violation of any of these laws can subject a landlord to some type of financial hardship, including having to pay compensation to a tenant.
What is an Illegal Eviction or a Self-Help Eviction?
Simply stated, when a landlord engages in the behavior listed in Florida Statute 83.67, he or she is violating the law.
Violating certain provisions of this law (like locking out a tenant, removing their belongings or cutting off their utilities) is sometimes referred to as a “self-help” eviction. In those instances the landlord can be sued for damages.
What if the Tenant Hasn’t Paid Rent?
Landlords cannot simply do anything they want to remove a tenant from their home. Landlords must follow the very specific eviction procedures set forth in the law.
This is true even if the tenant is behind on paying his or her rent.
In Florida, tenants have a right to remain in their home until the landlord complies with the proper eviction process, including providing the tenant with a correct 3-day notice to pay rent or vacate the premises (there is a whole body of law related to defective 3-day notices).
Examples of Illegal Eviction in Florida
The law defines what a landlord can and cannot do in order to evict and move a tenant out of the rental unit before the end of the lease.
The law gives specific examples of acts by a landlord that are illegal and wrongful in Florida. They are:
- Terminating the tenant’s electricity;
- Interrupting the tenant’s electricity;
- Terminating the tenant’s gas;
- Interrupting the tenant’s gas;
- Terminating or interrupting any other utility service, such as garbage collection, elevator service, water, etc.;
- Changing the locks on the rental unit;
- Using a bootlock on the dwelling;
- Preventing reasonable access to the rental unit in any way; and
- Removing outside doors, locks, windows, roof, or walls except as needed for repair, maintenance, or replacement while the tenant still has possession of the rental unit.
Of course, having a law on the books is one thing. It doesn’t stop bad landlords from trying to take advantage of renters and evicting them anyway.
Landlords ignore the law all of the time. They know that most tenants won’t do anything about it. The unfortunate thing is that most tenants are unaware that many lawyers will represent a tenant who has been illegally evicted without requiring the tenant to pay any money to the attorney unless the attorney wins their case.
4 Things a Tenant Can Do If a Landlord Attempts an Illegal Eviction?
These situations can be emotional and even dangerous for tenants. If a renter is able to communicate with their landlord without fear of harm or retaliation, then explaining that the Florida eviction laws have been violated can be helpful. (A written notice is better than a phone call, because having written documentation may make it easier to defend against an eviction later on or to prove a claim for damages.)
1. Give the Landlord the Law
Many times, landlords become reasonable and prudent people when they are informed of the law (especially when they realize the tenant is informed and the tenant has shared with the landlord that he or she can be liable to the tenant for damages). Even though the landlord may still move forward to evict a renter, they will likely do so in accordance with the law.
2. Call the Police
If the landlord does not remedy the violation, or if the renter is afraid to ask that the landlord obey the eviction laws, then the renter can always call the police.
Landlords are breaking the law when they turn off the utilities or change the locks. The police can order them to comply with the law. They can also help the tenant re-enter the home without being accused of “breaking and entering” the property.
The police officer will also file a police report of what has happened. (This is more documentation for the tenant to use later, if needed.)
3. Call the Utility Company
You have a right to basic utilities like electricity and gas. If the landlord has turned them off, then call the utility company. Ask that services be restored. (You may have to pay a deposit.)
4. Sue the Landlord for Damages
As stated above, if a landlord violates Florida Statute 83.67, he or she can be ordered to pay money to a tenant for a landlord’s bad behavior. How much?
A violation of this statute can mean that a landlord can be ordered to pay his or her renter:
(1) Either (a) the tenant’s actual and consequential damages or (b) 3 months’ rent, whichever amount is greater;
(2) Costs of filing the lawsuit; and
(3) The attorneys’ fees of the tenant’s lawyer.
If the landlord repeatedly violates this law, then he or she can be required to pay the tenant each time the tenant is harmed. (Note: in order for a tenant to be paid for each time this occurs, the repeated violations cannot have taken place at the same time as the initial violation.)
What is the Proper Florida Eviction Process?
What are the proper procedures a landlord must follow under Florida law to evict a tenant? The law is clear. These are the steps that a landlord should take when evicting a tenant:
- First, the landlord must give written notice to the tenant. This writing must be a 3 day notice to vacate or a notice of lease termination, and it should have a specific date or deadline for the tenant to vacate and all of the dates must be strictly adhered to;
- Second, if the tenant doesn’t move out by the deadline, then the landlord must file a lawsuit to evict the tenant (the landlord can also sue for damages – however, that can slow down the process unless the landlord follows certain rules related to civil procedure);
- Third, the landlord has to prove his or her right to evict the tenant to a judge and get an order signed by the judge allowing the eviction;
- Fourth, the landlord must obtain a writ of possession and then pay the County Sheriff to go to the home and post the writ on the door giving the tenant 24 hours to vacate the premises (some counties have special rules as to when the 24 hours begins). Once the 24 hours passes, and the tenant hasn’t moved out, the sheriff will then evict the tenant. At this time, any personal property left in the home will be removed by the sheriff, placed on the front lawn or in the street, and the locks can then be legally changed.
What Can a Florida Tenant’s Rights Lawyer Do For You?
If you are renting your home here in Florida and are having trouble with your landlord, then a tenant’s rights lawyer can be very helpful to you even if it’s just explaining your rights.
For instance, it does not matter who pays for the electricity, gas, or water. The landlord cannot interrupt these services to a tenant’s home even if the landlord pays for these services under the lease. See Florida Statute 83.67.
Also, it is possible to go to court and get help fast. A court order can be obtained from a judge to stop the landlord from committing any further bad acts.
How? Tenants can get priority help from judges because an illegal eviction is defined under the law as “constituting irreparable harm” which means a tenant can get “injunctive relief.” (injunctive relief is where a judge specifically orders a landlord to stop acting in a harmful way) See Florida Statute 83.67.
A good piece of advice if you are being illegally evicted, is to speak with an experienced Florida real estate lawyer to learn about your rights, including how landlords can be ordered to pay a tenant’s legal fees if they win their case. Most real estate lawyers, like Larry Tolchinsky, offer a free initial consultation (over the phone or in person, whichever you prefer) to answer your questions.
Do you have questions or comments? Then please feel free to send Larry an email or call him now at (954) 458-8655.
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