In Florida, it's illegal for landlords to lock out tenants, displace their possessions, turn off their utilities, or engage in other hands-on eviction measures.
Florida law has been criticized for heavily favoring the tenant. Regardless, the law that's on the books today is the law. Landlords who neglect to pay heed, risk litigation.
Eviction: what's illegal in Florida
Chapter 83 in the Florida Statutes defines the legal barriers for conflicts involving rental properties. Section 83.67 prohibits “self-help” approaches. The following methodologies are specifically listed as unlawful under 83.76 – even when the tenant is in violation of their lease.
- Utility termination. Cutting off or interrupting a tenant's utility services such as electricity, water, garbage collection, gas, etc. is illegal. Such behavior can lead to criminal charges against the landlord, especially if it causes harm to the tenant.
- No harassment. While it's completely legal for a landlord to contact their tenants regarding a failure to pay rent, threats, insults, and unreasonable communication are considered in conflict with 83.76.
- No property removal or seizure. Property owners or management are not allowed to move or hold their tenants' property as collateral – even after they've moved out.
- You can't change the locks. While it might seem fair, swapping out the locks when a tenant doesn't pay rent is illegal.
- Prohibiting access. Whether it be by blocking the door, bootlocking, or telling security not to let a tenant in, landlords taking such measures can be sued by their tennant.
- Making the unit unlivable: Removing doors, windows, toilets – any similar effort to persuade the tenant to move out is in violation of Florida law.
What tenants can do
It doesn't matter which side of the argument you're on, knowing what can be done in a landlord/tenant dispute can help keep matters civil. Regardless of the weight of your emotions, the best results come from keeping a level head.
- Provide information. In some cases, the landlord might not realize they're violating the law. Simply sharing the Florida Statutes regarding tenant rights can help diffuse an angry situation.
- Tenants shouldn't self-help either. If for one reason or another direct communication has failed, don't take matters into your own hands. Calling law enforcement can quickly define which side of the law both parties fall into and help make sure activities – such as re-entering the home – are achieved without further escalation or accusations of breaking and entering.
- They're the tenant's accounts. Just because the landlord turns off the water or gas, doesn't mean the tenant can't have it turned right back on – it's their account.
- Court. While going to court is expensive for both parties, if the landlord loses the dispute, they face paying damages and the tenant's legal fees.
The other side of the coin
Of course, lease violators are only half of the equation – landlords aren't always true to their responsibilities either. When property management neglects to properly maintain, or repair the property, it can be crippling for tenants.
In such cases, the tenant must follow Florida law as well. One of our recent blogs, “My landlord hasn't fixed the serious problem I reported. Can I withhold the rent money?” outlines where the law stands when landlords fail to live up to their end of the lease.