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     Let’s say you’ve rented out all your units and no problems have arisen lately.  Suddenly, it comes to your attention that one of your units has a Sexual Predator/Sexual Offender.  What do you do?  Do you run screaming with pitchfork and burning, flaming torch and gather a mob?  No, what you do is reassure any concerned residents that you are fully aware that there is an “unauthorized person” or “unauthorized occupant” residing in the complex. 

     Next, boot up your computer and go to the Florida Department of Law Enforcement website and look up the individual in question. If the person is a SP/SO, it will show up and give a brief description of the offense along with a physical description of the individual and a photo. An important aspect of the information will be the address that the individual has registered with the Florida Department of Law Enforcement (FDLE) website

     There are different laws regarding removal of the “unauthorized person”, depending on if the address is registered as your property address, if he or she is a resident or visitor or even on the lease or not.  You are under no obligation to send out a notice to the other residents that there is a Sexual Predator or Sexual Offender in the complex.  What you can say, is that you are full aware there is an “unauthorized person” in the complex and that taking all legal steps to have the person removed, and that it is a legal process that takes some time.

     You’ve filed numerous eviction notices the past few months on residents for numerous reasons.  Late or no pay, noise violations, trash, vandalism, and the list goes on.  One of your slow or late payers suddenly comes into your office with a money order for $2000 to cover the past rent.  You begin thinking of the empty apartments/condos/homes you have on the property, other late payers and begin to reconsider the eviction on this particular resident.  Afterall, two grand will certainly help in these troubled times.

     So, you accept the money order, call your attorney to stop the eviction and all is sunshine, daisies and buttermilk.  Not so fast…have you thought this through?   Your attorney will want to get paid, regardless if you stop the eviction, courts will want to get paid for any time they’ve put in.  Did you as the resident to cover that?  Did you include that in your eviction notice?  If not, guess who pays that.  That’s right, you do. 

     No one wants to evict a resident and if the said resident ponies up that lost money, everyone’s copasetic, right?  The lease may state that the resident is liable for all attorney’s fees and costs, but by accepting the rent and voiding the eviction, a resident can fight you on this, especially if she did not realize that you would be trying to take the money owed from the security deposit when she vacated.

Water is a wonderful, natural resource.  Just not when it’s flooding a resident’s apartment, condo or home that they’re renting.  From you.  Guess who is ultimately responsible for all that water damage?   That’s right.  You.

     Picture this: a resident gets up in the middle of the night for a bathroom break, let the dog out or finish that half of cheesecake.  They feel something squishy under their feet and look down.  Low and behold, there’s an inch of water throughout the apartment and a big wet spot on the wall.  What happened?  Apparently a pipe burst during the wee hours of the morning and has been flowing like Niagara Falls for hours. 

     So, they call the apartment/condo/manager’s emergency number, only to get a recording beeping back at them.  They wait thirty minutes…sixty minutes…now it’s been an hour and half.  In desperation, they wake the next door neighbor up and tearfully ask what to do.  The neighbor grumpily gets up and turns off the main water valve for them.  You (or a representative) arrive at the apartment at seven am to find extensive water damage. 

     Now, the resident will have to be put up in another unit (don’t forget that addendum lease!) while their unit is dried, cleaned and repaired. 

     What can you do?  There are several ways to prepare for this eventuality.  First, ensure the resident knows where the water shut off valve is.  Second, educate the resident the importance of having renters insurance that covers flood and water damage. Last, make sure you have addendum lease options and a plan of action to temporarily relocate the resident when it’s the property’s fault.

     No one wants to be caught off guard.

     Your old tenant is moving out and you have a new one coming in.  Let’s say the old tenant left in a hurry, so you and staff have to now move out the trash and leftover belongings, steam the carpet, repaint the walls, do minor repair work.  There’s a huge chunk of change from the security deposit that you want to use to cover expenses.  You think to yourself you have 30 days to notify the previous tenant of your plans to use the funds to cover rehabilitation expenses.  That’s well within your rights.

     What if you only use part of the deposit for repairs and/or rehabilitation?  Still think you have the full 30 days to deliver the remaining balance of the previous tenant’s deposit?  Not so, says Florida Law.  You have fifteen days to return the rest of the deposit to the previous tenant if you are not making any claim. That means, if you don’t have to do any cleaning, repairs or rehabilitation that requires you to take some/part/all of the previous tenant’s deposit, you have fifteen days to return/refund the full amount. If not, then you are opening yourself and the corporation to a lawsuit (and potential add-on fees that would double or triple what you would have to pay). 

     So, be sure to ask your company’s attorney or the attorney you have on hand to handle your real estate/tenant legal issues.   The last thing you would need is to have to pay thousands of dollars, in addition to returning the previous tenant’s deposit, when you first were notified of the tenant’s intent to vacate the premises.

GOING, GOING, GONE!

Evictions:  everyone loves them!  Residents enjoy seeing the writ of eviction taped to their door, Sheriff’s deputies enjoy serving papers to weeping, hysterical parents and managers of the residence enjoy confrontation it brings.  

     No one, I repeat, no one enjoys evictions.  It is a last resort for those residents who have failed to pay rent or have been such horrible, terrible people that they must absolutely leave the premises: This time by force (legal and otherwise).  Maybe they didn’t pay rent the past three or four months, or their checks continually bounced; maybe they have had complaints racked up against them for housing, noise or litter violations.  Maybe it was a combination of everything. 

     For whatever reason, now you’ve got to start the proceedings for eviction.  You post the notice on their door…and nothing happens.  Did they ignore the posting?  Not see it?  Are they not in the premises anymore?  So, you look in the unit and it’s as if they just stepped out for milk and bread.  Their furniture is still there, clothes still in the closets, food in the kitchen.  What now?

     Legally, there are steps you should take.  First and foremost, review.  Go back through your files, and make sure that the eviction was not performed in error, and do whatever it takes to contact the evicted resident. Do everything in your power to contact the evicted resident. Can’t locate the resident and everything’s in order?  Then you and your staff can remove the belongings to the property line.  The last thing you need is for an evicted resident to get out or jail or an institution, only to discover that you took all their personal property to the property line and that it is now all gone.

SWEET NOTHINGS

     As an apartment manager, you will always have one tenant that has become a nuisance.  Loud parties, obnoxious behavior, maybe you suspect theft or drug use.  Time and again, either you or other tenants have called the police on the offending residents.  You have what you consider a rock solid case against them for eviction purposes.  Heading into court, you submit the raft of police reports, written complaints from other tenants and your own written history of the offender(s) actions.

     The judge summarily dismisses your case.  You are left stunned.  What happened?  With out actual witness testimony from the people behind those written reports, it’s all going to be dismisses as heresay.  Hearsay is defined as an out of court oral or written statement offered to prove the truth of the matter being asserted. Many property managers believe that hearsay simply means that a person told you something, and you are prevented from admitting that statement into evidence at a court hearing. That is true to some extent, unless that person is in court with you. The reason is simple. If the witness cannot be called to the stand and cross-examined by the opposing party, then the statement is inadmissible.

     Don’t get me wrong, having police reports and written eyewitness testimony is going to vastly improve your chances of winning.  But without the witnesses and police physically there, in the witness chair, to be cross examined, all your hard work will be worthless.  Plus, the repercussions of losing your case are enormous. First, the problem resident is allowed to remain on the premises, and often will continue to cause the same types of problems that led to the eviction action; neighboring residents will not be happy. Adding insult to injury, you may be held responsible for the resident’s legal fees and costs, an amount which could be quite substantial!

     What do you do when you have military personnel as tenants?  You’re thinking, ‘I collect the rent and wish them well.’  That’s good and what do you do when they have to suddenly deploy in the middle of their lease?  Not so cut and dried, is it? 

     With so many men and women in the Military these days, it’s difficult to know what to do when a lease holder comes to you and requests to break their lease without owing any balance, fees, losing deposits or last month’s rent. All you can think about is all the money you’ll be out if you give them what they want.  What does Federal Law say?  What does Florida Law say?

     The short answer is, ‘it depends’.  Without sounding hard-nosed about keeping a tenant to their lease or maybe citing ‘if I let them out of their lease, everyone will want to break theirs and not pay a penalty’.  That may be true, but the law is on the sides of Military Personnel.  Anyone else is SOL [so outta luck].

     If a Military Personnel comes to you (or sends certified documentation) with their orders to deploy or move, by law, you have to let them out of their lease, with no penalty and give them back all deposits (provided there was no damage).  Oral notification does not work, either by the servicemember, recruiter or base.  It must be official documentation.

     For the full wording of the laws, see Releasing Servicemembers from their Leases

by Brian P. Wolk, Attorney at Law.