Landlords in Florida can’t just change the locks, toss your belongings out on the front yard, or shut down essential utilities. A landlord must follow the eviction process in order to have a tenant evicted for any reason. Here's an overview of what this means for tenants in Florida.
Written by Upsolve Team.
Updated November 19, 2021
In Florida, your landlord can evict you if you're behind on your rent, have violated some of your lease terms, or if your lease has expired. This article explains some of the rights and protections you have if you’re facing eviction from your rental property in Florida.
What Is Eviction?
Eviction is an action a landlord files in a court to remove a tenant from a rental property. In Florida, tenants must pay rent on time and follow other laws, such as keeping the property clean, or the landlord may proceed with an eviction action against them. Landlords can’t evict tenants without a court order.
It’s illegal in Florida for landlords to evict tenants through “self-help” actions, such as changing the locks, shutting off utilities (even if the landlord pays for them), and removing the tenant’s property from the rental unit unless the tenant has already moved out and abandoned the property. If the landlord uses these self-help actions, the tenant can sue the landlord and may be awarded damages or three months of rent, plus court costs and attorney fees.
Who Can Be Evicted in Florida?
Florida’s residential landlord-tenant laws are set out in Florida Statutes § 83.40, and they state the rights and obligations of tenants and landlords. You must be in a landlord-tenant relationship to be evicted. A tenant is someone who has agreed to pay rent to a property owner. You don’t have to have a written lease with the landlord to be considered a tenant. A landlord can bring an eviction action against people living at the rental property even if they’re not on the lease.
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Why Can Someone Be Evicted in Florida?
Generally, evictions happen for the following reasons:
The tenant owes back rent or is short or late on rent.
The tenant has violated a term of the rental agreement, such as smoking in a non-smoking area, keeping a pet where the lease doesn’t allow pets, or failing to keep the property clean.
The lease term is ending, and the landlord has decided not to renew the lease.
In Florida, when a landlord brings an eviction action, they must provide the tenant with a written notice to fix the violation, such as paying the back rent or removing a pet from the property. In Florida, non-payment of rent requires a three-day notice, and other violations of the lease require a seven-day notice.
Late, Short, or Behind on Rent?
In Florida, a landlord can’t start an eviction proceeding against a tenant until the tenant is behind on rent. Rent is generally due the first day of every month, including weekends and holidays. Florida considers rent late even if it’s only by one day. Some lease agreements include a grace period giving the tenant more days to pay the rent.
Before starting an eviction, the landlord must give the tenant written notice to pay the rent within three days. If the tenant pays the rent within three days, the landlord can’t evict the tenant. The three-day notice must be written and state the amount owed. Weekends and holidays aren’t included in the three-day window. So, if rent is due Wednesday and the landlord gives the tenant the three-day notice on Thursday, the tenant has until the next Tuesday to pay the rent or move out.
The landlord must serve the three-day notice either by hand-delivering or mailing it to the tenant or by putting it in a visible place, such as taped to the rental unit’s front door. The three-day notice doesn’t go into effect unless the landlord serves notice in one of these three ways.
When a tenant receives the three-day notice...
The tenant can pay the rent within three days, and the landlord can’t evict the tenant.
The tenant can move out within three days without paying the rent. The landlord can use the tenant’s security deposit to pay the rent owed. If the deposit doesn’t cover the rent owed, the landlord can sue the tenant for the remaining balance.
If the tenant doesn’t move out and doesn’t pay the rent, the landlord can start an eviction proceeding by filing a summons and complaint in a court in the county where the rental property is located. Also, a tenant who refuses to leave may have to pay double the rent for the time the tenant stays in the rental.
Lease Expiration or Termination
Under Florida law, landlords can evict a tenant after the landlord has terminated the lease or if the lease terms have expired. In both cases, even if the tenant is still paying rent, the landlord is claiming that the tenant no longer has the right to live in the property.
Landlords can evict tenants when the lease expires. This happens when the original lease terms run out, and the landlord decides not to renew the lease. The landlord must still give the tenant notice to move out, but the amount of time varies based on the type of lease:
If rent is paid month to month, the landlord must give the tenant a 15-day notice to move out.
If rent is paid week to week, the landlord must give the tenant a seven-day notice to move out.
If the rent is paid every three months (quarterly), the landlord must give the tenant a 30-day notice to move out.
If the rent is paid year to year, the landlord must give the tenant a 60-day notice to move out.
If the tenant remains on the property after the lease has ended and the notice period is up, the landlord may then initiate eviction proceedings.
Landlords can also decide to terminate the lease early and evict a tenant. They have to have a specific reason to terminate, such as nonpayment of rent or a violation of another lease term. As explained below, nonpayment of rent requires a three-day written notice, and other violations require a seven-day written notice.
The Florida Eviction Process
This section describes the general process for residential evictions in Florida.
What does a landlord have to do to begin an eviction?
To begin an eviction proceeding in Florida, the landlord must first give the tenant written notice of the lease termination. The written notice from the landlord must state the reason for terminating the lease (nonpayment of rent, keeping an unauthorized pet, etc.).
In addition to evictions based on failure to pay rent, there are two types of eviction proceedings in Florida — incurable and curable violations. Tenants can’t do anything to fix an incurable violation. An example might be when the tenant deliberately damages property. Tenants can take action to fix curable violations. This might involve cleaning the property or removing a pet.
Eviction actions based on incurable and curable violations require a seven-day written notice. The landlord must serve the seven-day notice either by hand-delivering or mailing it to the tenant or by putting it in a visible place like on the front door of the rental unit. As with the three-day late rent notice, the seven-day notices don’t go into effect unless the landlord serves notice in one of these three ways.
For curable lease violations, the landlord must provide written notice to the tenant describing the violation and give the tenant seven days to fix the violation. The notice will state that the lease will be terminated if the tenant doesn’t fix the problem within seven days. The notice also says that if the tenant repeats the same violation within 12 months, the landlord can automatically terminate the lease without any more notice.
For incurable lease violations, the landlord must provide written notice to the tenant describing the violation and give the tenant seven days to vacate the premises.
What happens once the eviction action is filed with the court?
To initiate the eviction action in Florida, the landlord files a complaint and summons in the county where the property is located. The summons notifies you of the court action against you, and the eviction complaint notifies you of the claims against you.
After the county clerk’s office notarizes the complaint and summons, a process server or county sheriff serves the tenant with these documents. The tenant then has five business days to respond to the eviction proceeding. The tenant can do this by filing a written response called an answer with the clerk of court, listing the defenses to the eviction proceedings. You must mail a copy of the answer to the landlord within five days.
If you don’t contest the eviction, the landlord can file a motion to obtain a judgment for possession. If the judge rules in the landlord’s favor, the court then issues a writ of possession, giving the landlord possession over the property. The writ of possession is the final eviction notice for you to leave the property. You then have 24 hours before the sheriff can return to the property and place a padlock on the door of the property. The sheriff may forcibly remove the tenant if the tenant refuses to leave.
If you contest the conviction, you still must pay any rent owed (or accruing during the eviction) into a court registry, which holds the funds until the eviction action is decided. The court will schedule a hearing on the eviction proceeding, where both parties can present their arguments to the judge. The hearing is usually scheduled from several days to several weeks after the tenant contests the conviction.
If the tenant fails to attend the eviction hearing, the court might enter a default judgment against them, which means the court gives the landlord wins the case. So it’s very important to show up at the eviction hearing.
Telling Your Side of the Story: Affirmative Defenses and Counterclaims
You may be able to raise certain defenses and counterclaims to the eviction. An affirmative defense is where you deny what the landlord is claiming. As an example, if the landlord claims you haven’t paid rent, you can prove to the court that you did in fact pay the rent. You have to prove this with evidence, such as showing the court that your check to the landlord cleared the bank on a certain date. You generally need to raise any defenses to the eviction in your answer that you file with the court in response to the landlord’s complaint.
Defenses to eviction lawsuits in Florida include:
The landlord shut off essential services to the property such as water.
The landlord has discriminated against the tenant.
The tenant has complained to the landlord about building code violations and the landlord has refused to fix the problem.
The tenant must terminate the tenancy because they’ve been called to serve in the military.
The landlord has wrongfully accused the tenant of a violation.
The landlord has failed to maintain the rental unit as required by Florida law.
In some states, tenants can raise a counterclaim to an eviction. A counterclaim is where you argue that the landlord is telling the truth — for example, that you’re late paying rent — but the landlord has done something that excuses you from paying the rent, such as failing to make repairs.
In Florida, you can’t withhold rent for failure to make repairs unless you give the landlord a seven-day written notice to make the repairs. The notice must state that you’re withholding rent until the landlord makes the repairs. If the landlord doesn’t make the repairs, you can abandon the property and keep the withheld rent. You can also stay in the property and pay reduced rent based on the seriousness of the unfixed problems. You can also ask for a housing inspection to support your claim that repairs are needed. Florida doesn’t allow renters to make repairs and then deduct the repair costs from the rent.
What Happens After an Eviction Trial?
The court may enter a final judgment on the same day as the eviction hearing or at a later date. If the court finds in the landlord’s favor, it will issue a writ of possession immediately. The sheriff executes the writ.
If you want to appeal the eviction order, you must file your appeal within 30 days. The court that entered the eviction order can instruct you how to appeal to a higher court. An appeal won’t stop the eviction unless the judge orders a stay pending appeal.
Practical Tips for Tenants Facing Eviction in Florida
During the eviction process, if you pay back rent or otherwise fix the problem, keep all your records to show this evidence to the court. In eviction actions where a landlord claims that tenants damaged the rental property, tenants should keep any documents, photos, videos, or other evidence showing the property’s condition. Tenants may also want to hire a municipal building inspector to submit a report about the property's conditions.
It’s important to attend the eviction hearing. If you absolutely can’t attend the hearing, let the court clerk know. You can also ask for a continuance. If you don’t show up at the hearing, the court could enter a default judgment against you.
You can sometimes work things out by simply contacting the landlord and asking for a solution outside of court. You and your landlord can come up with an agreement before the eviction goes forward. Sometimes a landlord will let you move out by a specific date and agree to stop the eviction proceeding. Put any agreement you come to in writing, sign it, and have your landlord sign it too.
Remember, good communication with your landlord is important, even if your lease is about to expire. An eviction action can seriously damage your rental history and affect whether other landlords will let you rent from them in the future. You may also want to consult an attorney for legal advice early in the process to learn about your options.
Tenant Resources in Florida
Here is a list of useful links and resources for Florida tenants facing eviction:
DisabilityRightsFlorida.org which includes up-to-date information on how the coronavirus is impacting housing and evictions in the state.
Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services information on landlord-tenant law in Florida.
Our Florida has information to help Floridians recover from the COVID-19 pandemic, including rental and utility assistance.
Orange County Emergency Rental Assistance Program provides financial assistance to low-income renters behind on their rent due to COVID-19 hardships.