"Eviction" is a terrifying word to a tenant. We all know the basic grounds for an eviction—failing to pay your rent on time or violating a term of your lease. Nonpayment of rent is usually fatal to a tenant's continued right to possession. However, the nonpayment of rent may be justified or excused, depending on the particular circumstances. If you are a tenant who believes that the landlord has failed to comply with the terms of the lease agreement based on the condition of the leased premises or for other reasons, it is crucial to properly preserve any claim against the landlord and any defense you may have to a claim by the landlord. Non-action or uninformed decision-making can easily result in a bad situation getting even worse. It is imperative that you thoroughly evaluate your situation, avoid delay and determine your rights, which may include defenses to fight an eviction. There are many tenants who are unfamiliar Florida's landlord-tenant laws and therefore unaware of their rights and how to properly enforce those rights. An attorney can help a tenant understand the tenant's rights and obligations so the tenant can protect against unfair eviction and the loss of possession.
Here are some of the many situations in which a renter can challenge an eviction:
Rent lawfully withheld due to landlord's failure to repair: According to the Florida Statutes §83.201, a tenant can lawfully withhold rent if the unit is considered "wholly untenable" (or uninhabitable), and the landlord has yet to make the appropriate repairs. In order for a unit to be considered inhabitable, it must have hot water, operational plumbing, and heating; it must be free of pest infestations; and it must be in compliance with building, health, and safety codes. Prior to withholding rent, the tenant must inform the landlord of the problem in writing and give him or her seven days to make the repair. The tenant should also inform the court of the rent withholding in order to avoid eviction.
Rent paid within three-day period of eviction notice: According to §83.20 and §83.56, Florida Statutes, a tenant has three days from the time he or she receives an eviction notice to either pay the rent or vacate the premises. If the landlord accepts the tenant's full payment of rent within the three-day period, the eviction can no longer be carried out.
Renter corrected lease violation: For more minor or common lease violations, a landlord should provide the tenant with written notice of the violation and give the individual seven days to correct the noncompliance issue, according to §83.56(2)(b), Florida Statutes. Examples of more minor or common violations include having unauthorized guests, pets or vehicles; as well as failure to keep the premises clean. If the tenant fixed the problem within seven days, this may be considered a defense against eviction.
Landlord filed eviction as retaliation: Florida law (under §83.64) prohibits landlords from filing evictions as acts of retaliation against tenants. For example, a landlord may be retaliating against a tenant for reporting a housing, building, or safety code violation to a government agency; for being involved in a tenant organization; for complaining to the landlord about repairs that needed to be made to the unit, etc. It will need to be proven that retaliation is the actual motivation behind the eviction, rather than an eviction brought for lawful reasons..
Landlord takes unlawful actions to drive out the tenant: A landlord cannot take unlawful measures in order to force the tenant out of the residential unit, as is explained in §84.67 of the Florida Statutes. For example, the landlord cannot change the renter's locks or get the renter's utilities shut off while the individual is still a tenant. If this happens, the tenant will likely have strong grounds to challenge the eviction.
There are also other possible eviction defenses that may be available to you as a tenant, depending on your specific situation. As a seasoned Palm Beach County litigation attorney who handles landlord-tenant law cases, I can help protect against wrongful conduct by a landlord and develop grounds to fight an eviction action. Do not hesitate to bring your tenant issue to my law firm, Gregg H. Glickstein, P.A., so I can review your case. Contact my firm today!