3 Common and Costly Eviction Mistakes Florida Commercial Landlords Need to Avoid
Florida commercial real estate owners are understandably protective of their property and their investment. When cash flow problems and other concerns arise due to a tenant’s failure to meet its rent or other payment obligations, these threats can lead owners to take action. But if owners aren’t careful and fail to follow the law, their efforts to collect past due amounts or evict their delinquent tenants can actually make matters worse.
Florida eviction law is highly technical and the procedural rules which govern evictions are strictly enforced. The law is designed to protect the rights of property owners as well as tenants, and courts are unforgiving in ensuring that the law is followed to the letter.
Unfortunately, eviction mistakes are common, especially when owners try to take matters into their own hands rather than put an experienced landlord-tenant attorney in charge of its collection and eviction efforts. Not hiring a lawyer to enforce lease obligations, including initiation of eviction proceedings, is perhaps the biggest misstep commercial property owners can make when facing a delinquency,
Beyond that, here are three costly and common mistakes that Florida commercial property owners should avoid when facing a defaulting tenant:
Out of frustration, a sense of justice, or a desire to turn up the heat on a delinquent renter, an owner can be tempted to take steps that make life and business difficult or impossible for the tenant. This can include changing the locks, turning off utilities, or letting themselves into the property without tenant permission or in violation of the lease. All of these steps are against the law and could in fact expose the property owner to liability for any losses caused by their “self-help” efforts.
There are only three legal ways for a landlord to take possession of leased premises when a tenant defaults:
- An ejectment action or an eviction lawsuit;
- The tenant voluntarily surrenders possession of the premises; or
- The tenant abandons the premises.
When landlords begin eviction proceedings for non-payment of rent, one of the biggest mistakes happens right out of the gate. Florida law requires that a three-day notice be provided to the tenant before an eviction suit can commence. If this notice is not served properly, or if it fails to contain information required by law, a court will deem it null and void, and any eviction lawsuit filed based on that notice will likely be dismissed. This means the landlord must go back to square one.
Accepting Partial Payment
If the three-day notice has motivated the tenant to pay up, it better be in full. If a landlord accepts a partial payment after the notice has been served, any lawsuit based on that notice will likely be dismissed as well and potentially expose the owner to damages. Not that you should necessarily reject the money, but be aware that if you do so, you will have to start over with your eviction efforts.
Given what is at stake when a tenant fails to pay rent or otherwise defaults, and given the costs of a mistake, Florida commercial property owners are advised to consult with experienced real estate counsel before proceeding.
Led by Board Certified Real Estate Attorney Stephen R. Moorhead, the real estate team at the McDonald Fleming Moorhead law firm can help commercial landlords understand their legal options and take steps to protect their interests when tenants fail to meet their obligations.
To speak with a Pensacola real estate attorney at McDonald Fleming Moorhead about eviction or other commercial landlord/tenant issues, please call our downtown Pensacola office at (850) 477-0660 or tell us about your needs online.