Renters’ Rights: What should you do if you are served with an eviction notice

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – The News4JAX I-TEAM frequently hears from tenants panicked about receiving an eviction notice. We want to make sure you know your rights as a renter.

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James Tyer, a lawyer for Jacksonville Area Legal Aid who specializes in tenant rights, joined us on The Morning Show to answer some of the most common questions we receive.

Can a landlord give a tenant 24 or 72 hours to vacate the property? Is that legal? Do they have to leave right away?

“No, a landlord is bound by a lease agreement, just like a tenant is and there are specific reasons they can terminate a lease,” said Tyer. “Tenants require certain notice. If it’s a non-renewal at the end of the lease, it depends on how long the lease is, how much notice they have to give. If it’s for non-payment of rent, it is going to be a three-day notice for a serious lease violation.”

Most importantly, Tyer said a tenant has the right to go through the legal process to be given an opportunity to defend himself or herself in court and that takes time. A renter should know they should not be strong-armed into thinking when they receive an eviction notice they have to vacate right away.

Can a landlord terminate a lease for no reason?

“No, if it’s a year lease, there’s only specific reasons that can terminate a lease,” explained Tyer. “However, for month-to-month renters, a landlord can agree to not renew or can decide not to renew a lease agreement within 15 days, for no reason, as long as it’s not discriminatory.”

But remember, under law, tenants have a right to dispute an eviction through the court system.

What should you do if you receive an eviction notice?

Tyer said whatever you do, “they absolutely must not ignore the notice. If they ignore the notice, it just means there’s gonna be a default judgment entered against them and that will follow their rental record. Any debts associated can be reported to credit agencies. A tenant absolutely needs to look at the summons and complaint and follow it very specifically. You’ve got to file an answer within five days.”

Something else that is very important, is if a renter is being evicted for non-payment of rent, Tyer said they need to deposit the rent the landlord alleges is due or file a letter with the court explaining why they don’t think they owe it and attach supporting documentation.

“If they fail to do those things, a default might be filed against them,” said Tyer.

Why is it important to read the entire lease?

Tyer said they frequently have tenants get caught up paying extra charges they weren’t aware of because they didn’t read the entire lease agreement.

“Sometimes landlords can waive additional responsibilities, certain repairs they have to make, they can put that burden on the tenant,” he explained. “We see this kind of thing all the time, unless these lease terms and provisions directly contradict the Florida Residential Landlord Tenant Act, it’s likely that the lease agreement will control and the terms will be enforceable, regardless of whether the tenant was aware of this charge.”

Why can’t a tenant withhold rent if they have tried unsuccessfully to get their landlord to fix a problem within the home?

“Under Florida law and a tenant’s lease agreement, a landlord must make certain repairs on the property. However, a tenant may not always terminate their lease or withhold rent for a landlord’s failure to do so,” said Tyer. “To properly withhold rent in Florida, a tenant must have a condition that qualifies under 83.51(1), Florida Statutes, which includes basically code violations, must be current on rent, and must deliver a specific statutory notice, which must be served before 7 days before the date they intend to withhold (for example, by January 24 to withhold for February 1). Only then, if the landlord fails to make the repairs in that time, can a tenant withhold rent lawfully. If the tenant fails to do this properly, the landlord can evict them for failure to pay rent, regardless of the conditions themselves.”

This is why Jacksonville Area Legal Aid recommends:

  1. Calling Code Compliance with the COJ to document the violations first
  2. Speaking with an attorney to assist in the process. JALA has a clinic at its office that can help tenants through this process and has court documents on its website.

Jacksonville Area Legal Aid offers free legal advice and counsel to the public. It has offices throughout Northeast Florida. You can call to set up an appointment at its Duval County office: 904-356-8371.

About the Author:

Jennifer, who anchors The Morning Shows and is part of the I-TEAM, loves working in her hometown of Jacksonville.