Most written lease agreements have a provision defining unauthorized guests. Generally, only the people who sign the lease and agree to pay the rent have the right to stay in the property. Many times, a tenant will let a girlfriend, boyfriend, relative, or friend stay in the apartment. An overnight visit is probably not going to create complications unless the guest disturbs other tenants.
If someone who didn’t sign the lease stays on the premises for any length of time, the landlord could seek to terminate the lease based on the failure to gain the consent of the landlord. Landlords can also seek to end a lease if the guest doesn’t respect the rights of other tenants. If the tenant leaves the premises and subleases the apartment, the landlord would also have the right to terminate the lease unless there is a new lease agreement.
Steps the Landlord Should Take to Evict Unauthorized Tenants
While landlords aren’t required to speak with their tenants about unauthorized guests, as a practical matter, it’s a good idea to have a conversation before getting formal. The guest may be getting ready to leave. The tenant may have forgotten about the lease terms or may not have understood them. The tenant may cooperate and inform the unauthorized guest that he/she needs to find a new place to live.
Landlords, in Florida, generally can’t use self-help eviction procedures. This means they can’t force the tenant to leave by changing the locks, turning off the utilities, denying access, or making the living quarters uninhabitable.
Florida’s curable and incurable lease provisions
In Florida, landlords of residential properties must follow the Florida landlord and tenant statutes. Different laws apply for commercial tenants. Florida divides lease violations into two categories – incurable and curable.
- Incurable violations. If violations are incurable, then the landlord can take more immediate steps to evict the tenant. Incurable violations include things such as willful destruction of property, repeated violations, improper use of the landlord’s property or the property of another tenant, or other unfixable problems. When violations are incurable, the landlord can give the tenant seven days’ notice to vacate the premises. Notices do need to comply with specific statutory requirements.
- Curable violations. If violations are curable, then the tenant gets time to correct the violation before formal proceedings can begin. Curable violations include parking in an unauthorized spot, having a cat when the lease forbids pets and having unauthorized guests. Any violation of any lease term may qualify as a curable violation. Florida law requires that the landlord give the tenant a written notice that he/she has seven days to correct the violation. The notice should identify what activities or conduct are needed to be changed. The notice should also state that if the tenant doesn’t correct the violation, the landlord will consider that the tenant violates the lease – and that formal eviction actions will begin.
Even if the tenant fixes the violation, the landlord can still start eviction proceedings if the tenant commits the same violation with a 12-month time frame.
General tenant obligations
According to Florida Statute, 83.52 tenants are required to:
- Meet all tenant obligations regarding health, building, and housing codes
- Keep their premises sanitary and clean
- Remove the garbage regularly
- Keep all plumbing items in good repair
- Use all electrical, heating, air-conditioning, ventilating, and other appliances and facilities (such as elevators) – in a reasonable manner
- Not deface, damage, destroy, or remove any property belonging to the landlord including the occupied premises
- Respect and not disturb other neighbors. This section specifically requires that tenants and guests meet this obligation.
Additional landlord requirements
The requirement to fix a curable violation, such as telling unauthorized guests they have to leave, should:
- Be in writing
- Mailed or delivered
- If the tenant is not at the premises, the landlord should leave a copy of the notice at the residence
Landlords who wish to evict a tenant who has an unauthorized girlfriend or guest should consult with experienced Florida real estate lawyers. Skilled Florida landlord and tenant lawyers advise landlords what notices are required to be given and what forms are required to be sent. They also prepare the formal eviction papers and represent the landlord in court. The attorney then formally works with law enforcement to evict any tenant who doesn’t leave on his/her own.
Possible tenant defenses to unauthorized guests charges
A tenant may have a defense if a landlord accepts the rent with actual knowledge an authorized person is in the apartment or facility. Specifically, the tenant can argue the landlord waived his right to the violation – but only up to the time the rent is accepted. If the unauthorized guests continue to stay, the landlord can claim there’s a new violation and send the seven-day notice to fix the letter.
Tenants can make additional arguments and raise additional defenses to eviction actions including:
- The seven-day notice or the formal eviction notice did not properly reach the tenant
- The notices failed to identify the exact violation of the leasing terms
- The notices don’t state what date the tenant must leave the apartment or other leased property
As with the acceptance of rent, showing that the landlord failed to meet a specific requirement of the Florida landlord and tenant laws isn’t a complete defense. Then the landlord has the right to create new notices. These notices should give the correct date, identify the violation, and be delivered properly.