Landlord’s Beware: “Self Help” Can Cost You Big
Let me start this week’s blog by way of a hypo: A landlord meets a prospective couple interested in renting their single-family home. They seem very nice, well spoken, drive decent cars, have no qualms about first, last, and security, and can seemingly afford the monthly rent. However, regrettably, the landlord agrees to keep the utilities in his/her name because it would have required the tenant to pay a large utility deposit that they could not afford. After a few months into the lease, the nice couple now has 8 people living in the 2/2 home. The property is now being neglected and the rent and utility payments are habitually late if paid at all. The tenants are avoiding the landlord’s calls like the plague and if they do answer, are insolent. They won’t allow access to inspect the home, and start complaining about any and every little thing they can think of.
The landlord starts to feel like they are being taken advantage of, and rightfully so. So, the landlord starts contemplating what could be done to get them out, and get them out fast! Filing for eviction is an option, but the landlord knows that without an attorney, the eviction process could take many months more than necessary. There are plenty of things you could do, but today, I’m going to talk about what NOT to do.
A landlord could be tempted to try “self-help measures,” or attempt to “constructively evict” their tenants. This could be done by changing the locks, not paying the utilities or even having them disconnected, moving their tenant’s property to the road, or anything else that could be considered a material interruption in their tenancy. DO NOT EVEN CONSIDER IT!!! A landlord can quickly turn from a Plaintiff who could recover a judgment against their tenant, into a potential Defendant owing thousands.
Florida Statute states, in pertinent part that:
- A landlord shall not cause, directly or indirectly, the termination or interruption of any utility service furnished the tenant, including, but not limited to, water, heat, light, electricity, gas, elevator, garbage collection, or refrigeration, whether or not the utility service is under the control of, or payment is made by, the landlord.
- A landlord shall not prevent the tenant from gaining reasonable access to the dwelling unit by any means, including, but not limited to, changing the locks or using any bootlock or similar device.
- A landlord shall not remove the outside doors, locks, roof, walls, or windows of the unit and the landlord shall not remove the tenant’s personal property from the dwelling.
- A landlord who violates any provision of this section shall be liable to the tenant for actual and consequential damages or 3 months’ rent, whichever is greater, and costs, including attorney’s fees. Subsequent or repeated violations shall be subject to separate awards of damages.
After reading the above bullets, it should be apparent to you that our legislature has taken a pretty strong stance on these “self-help measures.” There is a system in place if you want a tenant removed for your home, and it is called an eviction.
As stated above, the landlord can be found personally liable for damages to the tenant, including attorney fees and costs. Further, pending final judgment of the Court, the landlord can also be forced to undo whatever the act was that was deemed improper.
Bottom line, if you are a landlord or a tenant, and you think that your property or rights may be in jeopardy, you should speak with an attorney. The best practice is to speak with an attorney before you enter into a lease agreement. Some of the most common and costly issues can be addressed proactively.
This is a generalized discussion and is not intended for any particular set of facts and should not be relied upon as such. By no means does this blog create an attorney-client relationship or attorney-client privilege between the attorney and the readers. The law frequently changes as new cases are decided and published regularly. Anything relied upon in this or any blog, is done so at the readers own risk.
VERNON W. GUIRGUIS, ESQ.
The Guirguis Law Firm, PLLC
1423 S.E. 16th Place, STE 204
Cape Coral, Florida 33990
Posted on January 9, 2013, in Legal and tagged Attorney, Bootlock, Florida Statute, Fort Myers, Landlord, Lawyer, Legal Schmegal, Property Guiding, Rent, SWFL Real Estate, Tenant, The Guirguis Law Firm, Utilities, Vernon Guirguis. Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.