Avoid Evictions by Vetting Tenants: 5 Steps to Reduce Evictions

A great way to avoid evictions is to do some work on the front end to secure quality tenants who will pay on time and not destroy your property. This is not as daunting of a task as it might seem, however. It just requires that you take some time to outline and prioritize in the beginning and then put a screening process in place.

1) Require an application from your prospective tenant. At a minimum, a rental application will give you information about your tenant, including the name of their employer, salary, prior landlord, and reason for leaving (if applicable), and the names of any other occupants who might be inhabiting the premises. You can ask if they have ever filed for bankruptcy or have criminal convictions. You can also find out if they have pets, what kinds, and sizes.

2) Insist on a “no blanks” policy. One easy way to screen prospective tenants is to require that they complete all portions of the application. Of course, it should be clearly indicated on the application that all blanks must be completed or the application will not be considered. Provided the prospective tenant knows this, if they leave any portion of the application blank, you are free to discard the application.

3) Run a background check – but get consent first! As a landlord, you are allowed to run a background check on a prospective tenant to confirm what they have told you and to ensure that there are no surprises such as convictions or bankruptcies that they may have conveniently forgotten to include. In Florida, however, you cannot run a background check on an applicant unless they consent to the background check first. The best way to do this is to include a provision in the rental application indicating that a background check may be run and to have the applicant sign to give their consent. This consent should also cover credit report checks since a regular background check may not cover credit reporting agencies.

4) Charge an application fee. Florida law allows you to charge an application fee and does not limit the amount that can be charged. However, the conventional wisdom is to only charge a fee that would be no more than a normal expense. Normally, the application fee is non-refundable presumably because you will be using at least some of the money to run the background checks. You can make the fee refundable if you would like, but if you do make it non-refundable, make sure that this is stated clearly in the rental application. Also note that application fees and deposits cannot be commingled in one account. They must be kept separate.

5) Be consistent and unbiased. Your screening process, including the rental application, and application of your requirements for acceptable tenants should be applied consistently and fairly to all prospective tenants. The federal Fair Housing Act mandates that there should be no questions or screening criteria that discriminate on the basis of race, color, national origin, gender, disability, religion, and children. Do not make exceptions to your rules for prospective tenants. If you require tenants to have a 600 or higher credit score, then keep to that requirement. You get into trouble when you apply your rules unevenly.

Screening tenants, preparing rental agreements, and running background checks can be time-consuming especially for landlords with multiple properties, or who have other primary occupations. If you are a landlord and want to have your tenant screening done right, including a well-crafted rental agreement and selection criteria, contact Atlas Law. We can help draft your standard rental agreement, determine appropriate criteria for tenants, and assist with overall screening. Contact us today to get started.

Where to Start with the Eviction Process

As a landlord, the process of removing a tenant from your property (aka eviction) is governed by numerous rules and regulations which are designed to protect the tenant from being improperly evicted as well as the right of the landlord to lawfully remove tenants. The burden in the eviction process, however, is on the landlord and so it is critical to understand how the process works.

1) Are there proper grounds for evicting the tenant? Failure to pay rent is a prime example of a legitimate ground for eviction. Other grounds include where a person who is not listed on the rental agreement is found to be living on the premises, violation of the no-pets policy if there is one, and the tenant(s) are engaging in certain crimes such as selling drugs that threaten the living environment of other tenants. Improper grounds for eviction include evicting the tenant because they reported problems with the leased premises, and as a result, the tenant withholds payment due to identified and legitimate problems with the premises. Of course, eviction on the grounds of gender, race, religion, or disability, and other protected characteristics is absolutely prohibited.

2) Ensure that you as the landlord are in compliance. If there are code violations or other problems with the property, and those problems especially impact the tenant you are seeking to evict, it is best to get the code violations and other problems fixed prior to instigating the eviction. In some cases, the tenant’s failure to pay rent is directly due to the code violations or significant problems such as lack of heat or water. A landlord who attempts to evict on the grounds of non-payment who then turns out to be violating their own obligations under the lease will not likely get the relief they are seeking. Ensure that there are no grounds for the tenant to argue back that the eviction is improper due to the living conditions you are providing.

3) Let the tenant know there is a problem. Documentation is a big part of any eviction process, including that the violation occurred and that the tenant was notified of the problem. It is entirely possible to resolve the situation before the eviction process even gets started by notifying the tenant of the problem and giving them an opportunity to fix it. In fact, your lease may require that you give this notice and opportunity to cure the problem before escalating the matter to the court system. In the letter, identify the problem, point out the specific provision of the lease that is being violated, and give the tenant a certain amount of time to fix the problem. Send the letter via certified mail return receipt requested to be able to prove later on that the tenant received the letter, especially if nothing happens or is fixed in the time period given.

4) Consider meeting with an attorney who practices in the area of tenant law. Before heading into the eviction process, you should bring your concerns to an attorney who is well-versed in tenant law and evictions. An eviction attorney can review your documentation, your lease, and your evidence to determine if there are any potential problems or hindrances to a smooth eviction process.

Attorney Brian Chase has the extensive experience and knowledge of Florida landlord/tenant law that can cut landlords’ costs and court time. If you are looking to evict a tenant, contact Brian Chase for a consultation to learn your rights and responsibilities. Let’s make sure that you have all that you need to ensure a smooth eviction. We handle cases all over the state of Florida.

Dot Your “i’s” and Cross Your “t’s”: Why It’s Critical to Get the Details Right During an Eviction

Just about any proceeding using a specific detailed law requires exact compliance with the letter of the law for it to work correctly. Like following complicated instructions for assembling furniture, if you miss one step, the end result is destined for failure. Evictions in Florida are no different and are a veritable minefield for the unwary. Here’s why.

1) The process can become very long and involved. Tenants have access to instant information on proper eviction procedure and many are very capable of pushing back against your attempt to evict them. Blunders in the notice, dates, and other details are open doors to having an eviction thrown out, meaning you will have to start all over again. Indeed, just about any error in the process used by the landlord to evict the tenant can be grounds for having the eviction process declared invalid and the landlord will need to start the entire process, including wait times, all over again.

2) The overall cost will go up. Again, more time equals more money, especially if you are forced to start over, even in situations of non-payment. And, during the time that you are having to start over, the tenant will continue to be able to live in the unit. If a landlord partakes in so-called “self-help” tactics to force an eviction, such as changing locks or shutting off utilities, this becomes even more expensive in the form of damages to the tenant in the amount of three months’ rent.  

3) Other issues can become major problems. If you start an eviction and it turns out that the tenant has been complaining in writing to you about sub-standard maintenance of the property, your attempt to evict the tenant for non-payment or other violation may not hold much water. This is because the landlord owes a duty to a tenant to make the premises habitable, and if they are unable or unwilling to fulfill that duty and the tenant withholds rent payments as a result (and notifies the landlord of the problems in writing), then the tenant will likely be declared the winner. The moral of this story is to ensure that there are no other problems lurking in the background before you begin eviction proceedings that can give a tenant the necessary standing to push back on the eviction, and potentially win.

4) Lawyers will need to be more involved. The best way to handle evictions from the start is to have legal counsel who is very familiar with the requirements of eviction in Florida advising and assisting you at every step of the process. If you don’t get a lawyer involved until the eviction has been rejected, the attorney will have that much larger of a problem to fix, which will take more time and, yes, more money.

The best way to save yourself time and money is to have qualified, experienced, and knowledgeable counsel assisting you every step of the way. Brian Chase can be that attorney who can either handle the entire process for you, assist you, or advise you on your options and the steps you need to take. Contact him today and get started.  

5 Ways to Speed Up the Eviction Process in Florida

For landlords, evictions are a necessary part of the business. They are also one of the more complicated parts of the business and can take up an extraordinary amount of time and energy. There are some strategies, however, to make things go a little faster.

1) Follow the rules correctly. Failure to follow the requirements of the eviction laws will result in tenants being able to stall evictions and the landlord continuing to lose income as well as having to expend funds to rectify the mistakes. One the best ways to prevent this is to limit the technical mistakes both in the paperwork and in the notice provisions to ensure that you are not handing your tenant an extra month’s delay on a plate.

2) Do your homework. Ensure that you have the names of all of the adult residents listed on your notice. This includes not only those adults who were listed on the lease but also those who have established a tenancy since the lease was signed. Figure out the amount owed and if it is more than the rental amount listed in the lease, figure out why and be prepared to explain it. Keep an eye out for a payment from your tenant, which, in some cases, may stop the process right there.

3) Get your dates right. If you are using the three-day notice, remember that the three days does NOT include Saturday, Sunday, legal holidays, AND the day that you serve the notice.

4) Know your rights. The amount of notice required and the ability of the landlord to evict the tenant relatively quickly depends in large part upon the violation of the tenant. In cases where the tenant intentionally destroys the rental property or property of other tenants, commits the same lease violation two times in a 12 month period, or creates an unreasonable disturbance, the landlord is allowed under Florida law to give an unconditional quit notice in which the tenancy is terminated at the end of a seven-day period, regardless of whether the tenant cures the violation or not.

If the violation is failure to pay rent, the landlord has the option to issue a three-day notice to pay or quit. If the tenant fails to pay at the end of the three days, the landlord can file the eviction. Of course, this is the three-day period that must be calculated so very carefully because failure to follow the requirements of the rule will result in the landlord having to start the process over again and the tenant being allowed to remain.

5) Consider a stipulation. This is an agreement between the landlord and tenant where the tenant agrees to pay certain amounts to the landlord but also agrees to vacate the property. It also sets forth what will happen if the tenant fails to make the necessary payment and/or vacate the property in the time period given. This has the benefit of becoming an order of the court upon being signed by the judge in the proceedings and can be a potent final judgment. A stipulation with the tenant can shave off considerable delay caused by tenant maneuvering and ensure the landlord a favorable outcome with some payment and an eviction.

If you are a landlord with an eviction issue, another great way to speed up the process is to get legal counsel involved from the start. Brian Chase is an attorney who can be there with you at every step and save you considerable time in securing a legal and enforceable eviction or stipulation. Call 813.241.8269 today to get started.

What Should I do as a Landlord if the Tenant Has Abandoned the Property?

You have a lot to deal with when it comes to tenants, and one of the more sticky situations is when a tenant abandons the property. When a tenant leaves the property and doesn’t return, what responsibilities do you as a Florida landlord have in this situation with regard to whatever the tenant leaves behind?

Is it abandoned according to Florida law?

The first question that needs to be answered is whether the dwelling is abandoned such that the property within it is also abandoned. This situation comes up when a tenant leaves without paying rent and leaves their property behind. Under Florida law, a dwelling is abandoned when the tenant is gone from the property for a period of time that is the equivalent of one-half of the rental payment period and has not paid the rent in advance. So for example, if rent is due the first of the month, and the tenant is gone on that day and still has not returned on the 15th of the same month, then under the law, the property can be considered abandoned.

What should I do then?

The first thing you should do in this situation is to not dispose of the property in any way until you have fulfilled the requirements of Florida Statute Section 715.104. Under this statute, the first thing the landlord must do is provide written notice to the tenant or anyone else whom the landlord believes to be the owner of the property. The notice must include a specific description of the property and must inform the tenant or owner that they have 10 days to retrieve the property, if the notice is hand delivered. If the notice is mailed, the tenant has 15 days in which to come get their property.

If no one comes to claim the property…

If no one comes to claim the property within these times periods, then the landlord has to decide what to do with the property. If the property is worth less than $500, then the landlord has three options:

1) The landlord can take ownership and possession of the property

2) The landlord can get rid of the property, or

3) The landlord can sell the property and keep the proceeds

Where the property is worth $500 or more, things become more complicated. In this case, the assumption is that the landlord will sell the property. In doing so, the landlord must advertise for two consecutive weeks in a general circulation newspaper that the property is being sold. After this process and assuming the property sells, the landlord can deduct their costs for storage, advertising, and selling the property, but must remit to the county treasury the rest of the proceeds that are not claimed by the abandoning tenant. To determine costs for storage, the landlord must use a fair market rental value for the space that was needed to store the property.

If you are a landlord facing this issue or any other involving tenants and need legal advice, contact Brian Chase, whose practice covers the entire state of Florida. No matter what Florida county or jurisdiction you are located in, he is an advocate for landlords everywhere. Call (813) 241-8269 today to get started.

Landlords: Understand What Your Legal Responsibilities are in Florida

Being a landlord in Florida is not a light undertaking. Besides the responsibilities usually assigned to a landlord, state law adds some additional ones, some of which are more obvious than others. To make matters more confusing, the responsibilities vary depending upon the type of rental involved. Here’s a short guide to help you figure it all out.

For all types of housing, be it single-family home, duplex, or apartment, there are certain rules that all landlords must follow:

  • Maintain the property. This means in accordance with the current building, housing, and health codes. In the event there are no applicable codes, at a bare minimum, the plumbing must be kept in reasonably good working condition. The structural components of the dwelling including the roof, floors, windows, foundations, exterior walls, steps, and porches must be maintained in good repair and be capable of withstanding the usual loads and forces.
  • Put the agreement in writing. Oral rental agreements are allowed, but they can be a recipe for litigation later on as two parties in dispute will inevitably have two different versions of the terms. The essential elements of an agreement include:
    • The price
    • The dates of occupancy and when the lease terminates
    • Deposits and how they will be collected and returned
    • How the lease may be terminated early
    • Prohibited conduct
  • Put notices regarding the lease in writing. This applies even if the parties have an oral rental agreement. Also another compelling reason to put the original agreement in writing.
  • Follow the rules on deposit and rents. Upon the tenant moving out, you as a landlord have the right to keep the deposit to cover the costs of damage to the unit. However, to legally take advantage of this option, the landlord must have given written notice to the tenant of the amount of the deposit that will be retained and why, within 30 days of the date the tenant moves out. The landlord must send the letter via certified mail to the last known address of the tenant. If this notice is not sent within the 30 days as required, the landlord forfeits any rights to the deposit. Similarly, if the landlord decides not to keep the deposit to cover damages, the landlord must return the deposit to the tenant within 15 days.
  • Know your entry rights. As landlord, you can enter the property at any time for the preservation or protection of the property. At all other times, however, the landlord must give reasonable notice to the tenant. This means 12 hours prior to the proposed entry—and the time proposed should be reasonable—during the hours from 7:30am to 8pm. The landlord can also enter the property upon consent of the tenant or if the tenant has been gone for at least one and a half rental periods unless the tenant is fully paid and has notified the landlord of their intended absence.

Apartments require additional responsibilities on the part of the landlord. Specifically, the landlord must provide for extermination of vermin, insects, and termites. The landlord must maintain the locks and keys, keep common areas safe and clean, provide garbage disposal receptacles, provide working plumbing (including running and hot water), and heat in winter.

One of the first things to know as a landlord is that the maze of regulations is not something you need to attack alone. Contact Brian Chase today, an attorney to landlords throughout the entire state of Florida. Atlas Law can advise you on your rights and responsibilities. Spare yourself from headaches and call our firm today.

6 Secrets to Being a Successful Property Manager

Property managers have a lot on their plate at any given time. There are the rental agreements to keep track of, the properties to market, the apartments to service, and the tenants to keep happy. And, that’s just in the morning. It is possible, however, to be a successful property manager with a few good tips.

1) Know what you’ve got. Understand and know your portfolio of properties inside and out. This means knowing both what they rent for but also the type of family or renter for whom they should be marketed. A high rise apartment in the city may not appeal to the family with small children just like the suburban apartment may not appeal to the Millennial. Also know the areas in which you have properties and what elements of those areas might be attractive for particular renters. Maybe one unit is near a commuter train station or another is in the heart of the arts district.

2) Provide great service. Nothing is more frustrating for a tenant with an emergency on a weekend who gets no response from their property manager. This does not mean that you need to be hooked to a phone 24/7, but it does mean that you need to have processes in place to ensure that issues are handled promptly and that residents are assured that you have heard their complaint and are working to fix it. Great service should not end once the tenant moves in. It should last for the entire relationship.

3) Use social media. Let social media work for you to help you find tenants, but also to help you maintain your good reputation. Keep tabs on the reviews of your business on social media and if you see problem areas, address them. You should also become familiar with SEO optimization, keywords, and other methods of getting your properties in front of eyes.

4) Maintain your properties. This will require investment on your part to maintain and in some cases, upgrade your properties. The flip side of this investment, however, is that it usually can command a higher rental price. Tenants want to live in safe, habitable places that have the usual modern conveniences and fit their lifestyle. If your properties are not meeting that requirement, it might be time to consider some investments. Similarly, it is always important to maintain properties up to the relevant code for your area. Failing to do so can create a huge liability later down the road.

5) Find and hire good people. Depending upon the number of properties that you have, you may not be able to wear all hats at the same time. If this is the case and you need to find additional help, screen very carefully for employees who share your vision of great customer service and who are ready to work with you. Often times, the person you hire may be the tenant’s only point of contact with your organization and you want it to be as positive as possible.

6) Retain good counsel. There are going to be issues that arise that are complex or can turn into potential liabilities that will require the advice and help of an attorney. It is inevitable and you should be prepared for it by retaining an attorney who understand the needs and issues facing property managers. It is also critical to have an attorney on your team to advise you of changes in regulations, state and federal laws, as well as tax code implications and similar legal issues.

Brian Chase has extensive experience representing and advising property managers through the various regulatory and liability issues that arise. He is ready to join your team and help make it as successful as possible. Contact him today to get started.

A Step-by-Step Guide to the Mobile Home Eviction Process in Florida

Florida is behind only Texas in having the highest number of mobile home parks in the nation. Given the high number of mobile homes being used as primary residences in Florida, it is not surprising that the state has a robust eviction process relating to mobile homes. As a landlord, it is imperative to understand the process of Florida mobile home eviction. Here are the steps which are applicable to individual tenants, occupants, and owners of mobile homes as well as the homes themselves from lots in a mobile home park (MHP) of ten lots or more:

1) Determine whether the grounds you are seeking to evict on are legal. Legal grounds to evict a tenant from a MHP include:

  • Non-payment of rent (including for the lot)
  • Violation of the rental agreement or the regulations and rules of the MHP
  • If the individual occupant, tenant, or owner is convicted of a crime and that crime’s nature is hazardous or detrimental to the health, safety, or welfare of other MHP residents
  • If the MHP elects to use the land for different purposes. Any other grounds should be vetted first with an attorney who is familiar with Florida mobile home evictions

2) Give notice. Once you have determined that you have legal grounds to evict, you must give written notice to the individual or owner of the mobile home, both by hand and by mail. Notice periods differ depending upon the reason for eviction. For non-payment of rent, you must give five days’ notice. You must give an additional five days’ response time for mailed notices. If the tenant pays even a partial amount towards the rent, you cannot proceed with the eviction.

For tenant criminal convictions, you must give the person you are seeking to evict seven days to leave. Similarly, for those who violate the MHP’s rules and regulations in such a way that endangers the safety, health, and property of other MHP owners or their enjoyment of their lot, again, you must give the individual seven days to leave. When the landowner is seeking to change the use of the land which would result in evictions, they must give six months’ notice.

3) File for eviction and get service. Once you have given notice, you may file for eviction with the clerk of court for the county in which the property is located. The tenant must be served with the notice of the eviction, which is usually done by the sheriff’s office or a private process server. If the server cannot make service after two attempts, they are allowed to serve notice by posting it to the door of the mobile home. In this situation, the clerk must also send the papers in the mail.

4) Wait for a response. The tenant is allowed five business days from the date they are served or the date the notice is posted, whichever is earlier, to respond to the eviction complaint with their defenses. The tenant must file their response with the court and send it to the MHP owner. If the tenant does not file a response, the court may grant the eviction without a hearing. Similarly, if the eviction is for non-payment of rent and the tenant does not pay in that time period, the court can grant the eviction without a hearing.

Given the heavy emphasis Florida law places on due process of mobile home tenants, landlords need qualified and skilled counsel who understands these eviction procedures and who is able to serve clients throughout Florida—not just in a single jurisdiction or county. Here at Atlas Law, that’s exactly what makes us different and makes us stand out from other real estate and eviction lawyers. We serve ALL Florida jurisdictions, whereas other firms and lawyers only serve the jurisdiction they are in. If you are a landlord looking to evict a mobile home tenant, your first and only call should be to Atlas Law today.  

5 Reasons Why a Landlord Should Never Resort to “Self-Help” Practices

In Florida, many landlord/tenant agreements include wording that is there to allow ‘self-help’ practices. Most commonly, these are evictions due to non-payment, which the landlord can complete without ever involving the courts. While this type of wording is found in many contracts for both residential and commercial agreements, it is never actually in the best interest of the landlord to engage in this type of practice.

There are so many restrictions on the self-help requirements, and the courts so often look negatively on this practice, that it backfires on the landlords in most situations. The following are some of the most significant reasons why a landlord should never resort to self-help practices:

Can Delay an Eviction

Many landlords take steps like turning off utilities or changing locks as part of their self-help process. If the tenant files a complaint against you for this practice, and the courts determine that you didn’t have the right to do this, it can significantly delay the eviction process. Many tenants are very familiar with how to manipulate the system to stay in a property for extended periods of time without paying, so never take any actions like this, which could cause significant delays.

Exposes You to Risk of Countersuit

If your tenant feels intimidated or harassed because of actions you have taken, you are exposed to a countersuit. Depending on the actions you take, and the sympathies of the judge in your case, it could cost you a significant amount of money. At the very least, it can make it so you have no choice but to waste time and money just to work your way through the countersuit.

Can Give You a Bad Reputation

Most people looking to rent residential or commercial space really don’t understand what self-help practices are, and that they can in some cases be legal. Tenants often write reviews on popular websites about their experiences with landlords. If they write that you forced them out of their home without even going through the courts, it can make future tenants look to another property.

You Could Face Jail Time

Believe it or not, there have been landlords who have actually had to go to jail because of their actions. Even if you are very confident that you are justified in taking these types of actions, the courts rarely see it this way. If they feel you’ve taken things too far, you could end up spending several days or even weeks in jail!

Getting Legal Help is Very Affordable

Last, but certainly not least, is the fact that it is so affordable to have an attorney help you with any evictions that are necessary. Contact Atlas Law to get an estimate on the costs associated with an eviction based on your unique situation. We advocate for landlords in Florida, and would be honored to fight for your rights.

The Right Way to Evict a Defaulting Commercial Tenant in Florida

Renting commercial space to a tenant is a great way to make money in Florida. Whether you are renting an unused portion of your commercial property, or you purchase commercial property exclusively to rent it out to tenants, it is important to ensure you are receiving the promised payments from the tenants. If a commercial tenant in Florida is defaulting on their agreement, you may need to evict them.

Evicting commercial tenants is not the same as residential tenants. The laws in Florida respect the fact that commercial tenants are fiscally aware of the agreements they are signing, which in many cases can give the landlords the ability to evict defaulting tenants more easily than it would be to evict a residential tenant. That being said, however, it is still necessary to take the proper steps to avoid delays and other complications.

Giving Sufficient Notice

Once a commercial tenant has defaulted on their payments, you must give them a minimum of three days’ notice before beginning the eviction proceedings (for evictions not related to payments, fifteen days’ notice is usually necessary). The notice should be in written form, and ideally should be delivered via certified mail so you have proof that the notice was given.

Unlawful Detainer Complaint

Once that notice period has passed, filing an eviction complaint is the next step. This complaint should be filed with the local state court in which the property in question exists. In addition to filing it with the courts, it should be served to the tenant.

Wait for a Response

Once the tenant has been served, they have five days in which to respond to the complaint. They can respond by filing an answer, issuing a counterclaim, or by exiting the commercial property. If they fail to respond at all, the tenant automatically loses the case.

Make Your Case

If the tenant does file an answer or counterclaim, the courts will set up a date, usually a few weeks in the future, when everyone must come in and state their case. In the vast majority of these types of cases, it will be heard by a judge, though in some rare circumstances a jury may be brought in.

Enforce the Judge’s Ruling

If the judge agrees with you that the tenant did not make their required payments, he or she will make the ruling that the tenant must leave. If the tenant doesn’t vacate the premises within a reasonable amount of time (a day or two) then you can have the courts enforce the ruling, which is when the police can forcibly remove them, at which time you can begin the process of finding a new tenant.

Don’t Attempt to Handle it On Your Own

While these types of cases seem quite simple on the surface, there are many little things that can go wrong. If the paperwork is not completed correctly, the notices aren’t served properly, or the tenant has a solid argument as to why they haven’t made their payments, it can cause significant delays. Contact Atlas Law to discuss your options, and let us help you through the commercial eviction process.