Florida Landlord Rights When a Tenant Refuses to Pay

Landlords are often portrayed as the bad guy when it comes to tenant disputes over rental property, but there are plenty of good landlords out there, and plenty of bad tenants.

Furthermore, tenant-landlord cases are rarely as cut and dry as “bad vs good.” Sure, there are some people out there who maliciously seek to take advantage of others, but for the most part, each side of a rental dispute usually has fair justification from their perspective that they are in the right.

Both tenants and landlords have rights and responsibilities when it comes to a rental arrangements, and both have recourse available to them when the other does not fulfill his or her obligations. So, just as a tenant has the right to take action when the landlord does not provide a habitable home or breaks some other term of the lease, the landlord has options to make sure they receive the money they are entitled to when a tenant neglects or refuses to pay.

It should go without saying that, if you plan to take action against a tenant for nonpayment or underpayment of rent or other breaches of the lease, make sure you have fulfilled all of your obligations as a landlord first. You must also ensure that any action you take is not discriminatory of a protected class (like race or religion) or retaliatory in nature.

There is a very specific process you have to follow to take action against a tenant for nonpayment of rent, and even minor mistakes can result in you being sued by the tenant so make sure you consult with an experienced landlord-tenant attorney like Ray Garcia before moving forward.

When a tenant has failed to pay rent in accordance with your lease agreement, you must serve him or her with a written notice in person providing them three days, excluding weekends or holidays, to pay the unpaid amount. Be specific in your notice about the amount due, when it must be paid, and exactly what action you will take if it is not paid by that time.

If they comply and pay the full amount owe, the violation has been “cured” and they must be allowed to remain, at least until there is another violation for which you can take action.

If they fail to pay the overdue rent within the 72 hours, you may begin eviction proceedings to cancel the lease, remove the tenant, and take control of your property. If they legally abandon the property, you may use their security deposit to pay the amount owed (within the bounds of Florida security deposit law), and if the deposit is not enough, you can sue the tenant to cover unpaid rent.

If the tenant does not pay or leave the premises, you can then file a summons and complaint with the county court to gain possession of the property. You cannot personally take any actions to force the tenant to leave, such as changing locks or turning off utilities, or you may lose your case and be forced to pay damages to the tenant yourself. Five days after the complaint is served, you may request an eviction hearing, but if the tenant does not respond to the complaint or pay the rent owed you can move forward with the eviction without a hearing by obtaining a court order.

At the hearing, a judge will decide whether or not the tenant has violated the lease. If he or she agrees, the tenant will be given 24 hours to vacate, after which a sheriff may forcibly remove them from the property.

There are numerous legal pitfalls for landlords entering into the eviction process, and many regulations about what actions you can take with regard to things like security deposits, so please contact the Law Office of Ray Garcia and let us ensure that you are following the proper procedure with regard to your landlord rights when a tenant refuses to pay his or her rent.