Frozen Out in Tenant Eviction

Actor Jack Whitehall had a small part in the movie, Frozen, just one line, but he was so excited to be in a big Disney production.  Then when the movie came out, his line was cut.  His animated character appeared on screen, the lips moved through the words Whitehall had recorded, but the character had no voice.  The same thing can happen to property managers who try to represent their corporation in court in a contested tenant eviction. Showing up to court is good, but being able to voice your side of the case is better.  A property manager may show up to represent an owner, but unless he is the owner’s attorney, he does not have a legal say in a contested tenant eviction (and his cause may not get very far); the Judge gets to hear a one-sided argument…from the tenant. The property management company can file tenant eviction paperwork as long as the eviction is uncontested and for possession only (not money).  However, if the tenant raises a legal defense, then the property manager has to let it go, and either the property owner has to represent himself or herself in court, or be represented by an […] Read More

Evicting Dr. Frankenstein

Dr. Frankenstein was a terrible tenant.  There were strange smells, late night excavations, and complaints from undertakers about missing corpses.  Furthermore, Dr. Frankenstein never paid his rent.  His landlord was fed up and wanted Dr. Frankenstein out. What the landlord did not know was that Dr. Frankenstein was conducting his greatest experiment, a matter of life and death!  Dr. Frankenstein was building a superhuman with the legs of a running back, the arms of a weightlifter, and the head of a law professor.  Just at the moment when Dr. Frankenstein was going to unite the various body parts with a surge of electrical current, the landlord shut the power off. However, also at that moment a storm was approaching.  Dr. Frankenstein hoisted the lifeless collection of body parts to the highest point of his rental property, and then tied a kite to his creation. Sure enough—SHAAA-ZAMMO! Lightning struck with ten thousand times the voltage that would have come from  Dr. Frankenstein’s washer/dryer outlet, and behold…the creature came to life!  With superhuman strength and the madness only possessed by law professors and judges who’ve sat on the bench too long, the creature took off in a rampage, destroying everything in its […] Read More

Abominable Snowman & the Rental Unit A/C

The Abominable Snowman rented a place in Florida one summer, eager to check out the beach and what everybody saw in those tourist billboards up North. “No pets,” was the first thing Larry the Landlord said when he got a look at Mr. Abominable. After they got over the issue of the Abominable Snowman being the renter himself and not a pet, and after they got over the negotiation of an extra security deposit to cover hair removal from the drains, Larry the Landlord and the Abominable Snowman signed a lease agreement. One night the Abominable Snowman was in his rental unit having pizza with his southern cousin, the Swamp Ape, when suddenly the air conditioning cut out. “I got to go,” said the Swamp Ape, and he cut out faster than the A/C because he was wanted—everybody was always trying to post his picture and get an interview. The Abominable Snowman was furious and overheated, and he withheld rent for every day of the lease that he did not have air-conditioning. He went to court to raise a fuss, but because he had not paid his rent (not even into the Registry of the Court) he had no say […] Read More

Fifty Ways to Leave Your Landlord

There must be fifty ways to leave your landlord, but if you want your security deposit back, it is more complicated that to just drop off the key to get yourself free. If you slip out the back to terminate your lease early, you may not be able to get your security deposit, and furthermore, you may still owe rent after you have gone. If you hop on the bus and do not leave a forwarding address, it will be difficult for your landlord to send you your money (or notice of what happened to it). The answer is easy if you take it logically: Landlords have fifteen days to return your security deposit.  That gives them the opportunity to examine fully the property for damages.  Then, the landlord has up to 30 days to send you written notice after you leave to tell you they are keeping all or part of your deposit.  If you think that is a dirty deal, you have 15 days to notify your landlord in writing (Certified Mail, return receipt requested). There must be fifty ways to leave your landlord, but if you want your security deposit back, the best way is to follow […] Read More

An Enforceable Lease

Not all contracts have to be written in order to be enforceable, but some do.  Real estate contracts and any contract that cannot be performed within one year (like a lease of more than a year) must have written contracts. Real estate agents are allowed to do a lease up to a year using pre-made legal forms.  These forms have been prepared by attorneys, and the real estate agent uses the check boxes to tailor the agreement.  Also, a lease of a year or less does not need witnesses to be enforceable. When in doubt, seek competent legal counsel.   Attorneys do not have to be expensive and they do not have to be obnoxious.  Furthermore, an attorney can be the difference between an enforceable lease, and a useless piece of paper.   Read More

Holiday Rush & Pause on Renter Eviction

The hustle and bustle of the holidays does not apply to renter eviction.  Landlord-Tenant Law works off the courthouse calendar—not Wal-Mart hours. Tenant eviction is a summary process that can be done in as little as two weeks (if done properly).  Landlord notices come in increments of less than ten days.  Because that is such a short amount of time, the court does not count holidays or weekends to allow the tenant time to get things done.  Plus it is harder for a tenant to pay a landlord on holidays and weekends when banks are closed. As a landlord, you have to follow proper eviction procedure or it might not happen and you could lose more than rent.  If rent is due on Sunday and not paid, then on Monday you can give a Three Day Notice to pay or quit.  You do not count the day on which you give it, thus the renter has until Thursday to pay you.  If rent is not paid, then on Friday you can file a Complaint for Possession.  The Complaint has to be served by a sheriff’s deputy or other person authorized by the sheriff’s department (NOT the landlord).  Once the Complaint […] Read More

Tenant Eviction

Tenant eviction is supposed to be streamlined—do not complicate it by violating your tenant’s rights. Tenant eviction is a Summary Procedure, meaning it takes a shorter time than a regular lawsuit.  While a regular lawsuit gives a homeowner 20 days to answer, a renter only has 5 days.  Do not try to speed up the process by changing the locks or cutting off the utilities.  And let the sheriff’s deputy do his job in serving the eviction notice. I love the smell of bad landlords in the morning.  The landlord can be liable for damages or 3 months’ rent (whichever is greater) for improper eviction.  Renters in possession have rights…even if they have not paid the rent.  If you infringe on those rights, it could be you who gets billed. Know and follow the proper procedure for tenant eviction; they are available free online at http://www.rustylaw.com/wp-content/uploads/2011/10/Evictions.pdf . You can also read the entire Landlord/Tenant statute at http://www.rustylaw.com/wp-content/uploads/2011/10/Chapter83.pdf . Read More

Hot Rental

John Gorrie’s marble statue stands in the Capitol Rotunda in Washington D.C. not because he saw Medusa—he invented air conditioning.  As a physician, he felt there was a medical need for chilled air when he came to Florida in 1833, and by 1851 he had a patent for an ice machine.  While air conditioning has made a huge impact on Florida real estate, A/C does not extend to renters’ rights. Renters are entitled to live in units with running water, electricity, garbage service, working elevators (if applicable), refrigeration, gas (if applicable), and heat, but despite Dr. Gorrie’s contribution, air-conditioning is non-essential on the list of legal requirements.  It is the hottest thing in Landlord-Tenant Law. If your air-conditioning stops working or if there are other defects with your rental unit, (1) PAY YOUR RENT ON TIME, (2) notify your landlord of the problem with a seven-day written notice sent preferably via certified mail, and (3) after seven days if the landlord has not fixed the problem, then you can withhold rent or leave tenancy; however, it is usually best to work out a deal. Good news for renters:  the courthouse is air-conditioned.  If you do wind up in court with […] Read More

Low Cost Legal Resources

The Sixth Amendment gives you a Constitutional right to an attorney in a criminal defense.  But what if you are poor, elderly, disabled, and your landlord has locked you out?  Or you are facing home foreclosure and do not know what to do?  There are good legal resources in St. Johns County which may be able to help you in a civil matter at little or no cost to you.  These include the following resources: St. Johns Housing Partnership (SJHP) SJHP is non-profit agency whose services are offered to the public regardless of income.  They work with borrowers living in million dollar homes as well as those eligible for Legal Aid.  Their HUD certified counselors are sensitive to what their clients are going through, and they are knowledgeable and experienced negotiating with lenders on a loan modification that works for everybody.  SJHP does a background check on their clients without waiting for the bank to do one.  They get good results because they do the homework ahead of time.  There is no way to predict how long a mortgage modification will take, but you have a better chance to a permanent solution with SJHP. To learn more about St. Johns […] Read More

People’s Law School – March 11: ‘Landlord / Tenant Law’

The People’s Law School is in session again this spring, with a series of legal lectures presented by St. Johns County Legal Aid.  The March 11th topic is “Landlord / Tenant Laws.”  This FREE one-hour class starts at 4:00 p.m. at the Southeast Branch Library (6670 US 1 South, St. Augustine, Florida). The People’s Law School schedule for the rest of the spring is as follows: March 18 – Foreclosure Defense of Homesteads April 1 – How Can You Avoid the Need for Guardianship? April 8 – Is Probate a Dirty Word? April 15 – Spouse in a Nursing Home—Do You Have to Go Broke? April 22 – Should You Ever Put Someone Else’s name on Your Deed? May 13 – Do You Need a Will?  What If You Die Without One? All classes are free and start at 4:00 p.m. at the Southeast Branch Library.  For more information on St. Johns County Legal Aid and their services, go to www.jaxlegalaid.org. Read More