Commercial Landlord-Tenant Laws and Disputes
The commercial or “non-residential” eviction process in Florida is governed by Part I of Chapter 83 of the Florida Statutes. The statutes outline the notice requirements, rights, and obligations of both the landlord and tenant. Most of the terms and rules within the statutes can be altered by a written commercial lease between the parties. It cannot be stressed how important a strong legally sufficient commercial lease is when dealing with a dispute between a landlord and tenant. If you are a landlord, please do not pull leases off the internet to use. The money that you spend on a qualified commercial landlord-tenant attorney to draft a custom lease for your particular property and tenant could save you tens of thousands of dollars and months to years of emotional distress. In any dispute between a commercial landlord and tenant, the lease must be reviewed to determine the rights between the parties. The statutes serve as a backup to the lease for any terms not covered within the lease. The lease may alter or create specific or additional notice provisions or other provisions.
Notice of Default Due to Failure to Pay Rent
Prior to filing a lawsuit to evict a commercial tenant, a landlord must serve the statutorily required three (3) day notice to the tenant and demand that payment or rent due be made or possession of the premises be returned within three days from the date of delivery of the notice. This notice may be delivered by mail, personally served, or if the tenant is absent from the property, a copy may be left at the leased property. The notice requirement is mandatory and is a precondition to obtaining a judgment for possession or past due rent. It is highly advisable to send the notice in a manner that can be documented such as via certified mail with a return receipt requested, Federal Express, UPS, or through a process server who can handle deliver or post the notice and then provide a sworn affidavit of doing so. One of the first, and often effective, defenses that can derail a landlord’s eviction lawsuit is that the notice provisions were not properly complied with or the landlord cannot prove that notice was given.
Notice of Default of Lease or for Any Reason Other than Failure to Pay Rent
If a tenant is in default of a lease term or obligation, a landlord must give the tenant at least fifteen (15) days notice requiring the cure of the breach or possession of the premises. This notice requirement can be altered within the commercial lease, so it is important to check the lease for any additional notices or alterations to the notice requirements as set forth in Florida Statute 83.20(3). If the lease provides the terms and manner in which a notice provision must be served, then those methods should be followed. Adhering to the notice provisions in your lease is important to avoid costly delays in the eviction process.
Which Court to File in
Once notice has properly been served, a qualified commercial landlord-tenant attorney should take the case from there. At Parikh Law, P.A. we review and draft commercial leases carefully and have a list of qualified process servers that we provide to our commercial landlords who can deliver notice on their behalf to ensure that no situation arises where a notice provision was not complied with.
If a commercial landlord is seeking only the possession of the premises or property, the case will be filed in the Florida County Court where the property is located. If the landlord seeks to obtain possession and also damages (past due rents and other monies owed), then the action will be filed in the County Court where the property is located in the amount in controversy is less than $30,000. If the amount of past rent and other damages is more than $30,000, then the case will be filed in the Circuit Court for the county in which the property is located.
The eviction process, especially for commercial evictions, can lead to complex litigation. It is important to engage and hire a qualified trial lawyer to represent you if you are seeking to evict a commercial tenant. The sooner you consult with a qualified landlord attorney the better chances you will have of saving time, money, and stress.
The lawsuit, like many other commercial litigation lawsuits will begin with the filing of a complaint. If the tenant fails to make a payment or cure the breach within the specified time period provided in the notices described above, the landlord may file an action to either (1) seek possession only or (2) seek possession and damages (i.e., past due rent and other monies owed). If the complaint seeks only possession, the landlord is entitled to a summary process by which the tenant will only have five (5) days to respond to the lawsuit after the tenant is served by a process server with the complaint and summons. If the landlord is seeking damages (i.e., past due rent and other monies owed), then the tenant will have 20 days to respond.
If the tenant fails to answer the complaint for possession after five (5) days or fails to answer the complaint for possession and damages within twenty (20) days, then the landlord may move for a clerk’s default and then ultimately a default judgment from the court. Upon entry of the default, the landlord may file for a final judgment for possession and damages.
If the tenant does answer the complaint through a proper responsive pleading, they must also either (1) deposit the alleged monies owed in the complaint into the court’s registry or (3) file a motion to determine the rent amount. If the tenant does not do one of these two things, they may be defaulted by a proper motion by the landlord’s attorney.
Tenants may attempt to defend a commercial eviction by raising any legal or equitable defense. Possible defenses may be that the landlord failed to comply with the notice provisions of the lease, or that there is no default in the payment because the tenant properly withheld rent due to the landlord’s failure to keep the premises in a habitable or tenantable condition pursuant to Florida Statutes. If the tenant attempts to withhold rent due to an assertion that the landlord did not maintain the premises as required by law or the lease, the tenant must show that they delivered the landlord a notice at least 20 days prior to withholding the rent.
After considering all of the relevant issues, the Court will determine the outcome of the case.
It is important to note that commercial evictions, like all commercial litigation, are governed by the Florida Rules of Evidence, the Florida Rules of Civil Procedure, and the substantive Florida Statutes found in Chapter 83. It is advisable to consult with and retain a qualified landlord-tenant attorney to represent your interests in a commercial eviction action as things can get very complicated and expensive without one. Once you make mistakes during the pendency of a lawsuit, they are very difficult to go back and correct. Do not let yourself be taken advantage of and do not attempt to navigate the justice system without a qualified trial attorney in your corner.
At Parikh Law, P.A. we represent both landlords and tenants in commercial eviction cases. We offer custom lease drafting, lease review, and tenancy negotiation representation as well as litigation services for eviction lawsuits. We work with many landlords and property management companies throughout Central Florida to ensure that the legal ends of their real estate ventures are covered to save them time, money, and stress in their real estate business. Call us today at 321-558-2704.