Evicting a Commercial Tenant in Florida

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 What Is a Commercial Tenant?

Commercial tenants are businesses that do not own their store, office space, warehouse or other place of business. Rather, they lease their space. In the United States, commercial zones are more limited than the surrounding residential areas, and zoning laws are strictly enforced. A business generally cannot set up shop in the owner’s house, as it can in some other countries. They must turn to property that is zoned for commercial use.

As a result, many businesses rent their places of business from a commercial landlord. Private residents are guaranteed a habitable space, and there are limitations as to how and when a tenant can be evicted. However, businesses are deemed to be able to negotiate lease agreements. The law does not want to restrict the rights of businesses to negotiate their own terms. The result is that commercial tenants, unlike residential tenants, often have to negotiate for the rights that they want.

Still in Florida the law does provide some basic commercial tenants’ rights when it comes to the eviction process. State statutes establish a specific procedure for the eviction of commercial tenants in Florida.

Why Would a Commercial Tenant Be Evicted?

Landlords usually evict a tenant because the tenant cannot pay the rent. This inability to pay rent may be voluntary, as a protest of the landlord’s alleged breach of a lease agreement, or involuntary, as a result of business losses or bankruptcy. Commercial evictions might also occur because the landlord gets a better offer from a prospective new tenant. The main issue is whether or not the rental agreement between the parties has been breached.

In Florida, it is important to have a commercial lease that covers all foreseeable circumstances. The business may have to pay the rent even if the building is damaged by fire or flood. Tenants may have the responsibility to maintain the property. Tenants may sign away their right to sue the landlord. Landlords can accept partial rent and still evict the tenant. Both parties should know what is in their lease agreement and consider it carefully.

On the other hand, Florida commercial landlord-tenant law allows businesses to manage their own rights and include the rights they want in lease agreements. Commercial tenants can ask for the right to sublet or assign the lease to tenants acceptable to the landlord. They can require security services, landscaping services, and janitorial services. Operating expenses for such items as maintenance of common areas would also be addressed in a complete lease agreement.

Tenants can also be evicted for staying beyond the end of the lease term specified in the lease agreement. Such tenants are known as “holdover tenants”. For instance, if the lease provides that the tenancy is to last for the term of one year and the tenant is still on the property after a year has passed, the landlord can evict the tenant. A lease may even provide that the landlord can also demand double rent from a holdover tenant.

Commercial lease agreements sometimes impose obligations on a commercial tenant above and beyond the obligation to pay the required rent. These obligations may include such things as making only certain uses of the premises and not others, maintenance of the property, signage, tenant improvements and continuous operation. So, for example, a tenant in a retail space in a busy mall may be required to have opening hours that match those of the mall itself.

A tenant’s failure to comply with its non-monetary obligations under the commercial lease agreement can result in a breach which, if uncured, will give the landlord the right to evict the tenant. Although the basic procedures for eviction are identical for both monetary and non-monetary breaches, the landlord may have additional obligations before they can initiate an eviction proceeding for a breach that does not involve paying the rent.

Most commercial leases provide for notice to be given to the tenant in the event of a breach of the lease other than non-payment of rent. These lease provisions generally provide that the tenant must be given reasonable notice of the breach and then an opportunity to remedy it. A landlord should review their commercial lease agreement to ensure that the tenant’s action is prohibited and to confirm whether notice of a breach and an opportunity to remedy are required under the lease.

A landlord must comply with any lease provision regarding the type and timing of notice of a breach which must be provided to a tenant for non-monetary breaches. If the lease does not have any provision for notice for non-monetary breaches, Florida law requires the landlord to provide 15 days written notice. This means that the tenant would have 15 days to cure the breach.

Or the tenant can give up possession of the property to avoid an eviction proceeding. If the tenant does neither, i.e. does not cure the non-monetary default or give up possession of the premises, the landlord may initiate an unlawful detainer action to evict the tenant.

What Is the Eviction Process for Commercial Tenants In Florida?

If the commercial tenant fails to pay rent in Florida, landlords are required to give the tenant at least 3 days notice before beginning the commercial eviction process against the tenant. If the tenant is being evicted for reasons other than the non-payment of rent, a 15 day notice is typically required.

The eviction notice must be hand-delivered to the tenant at the place of business, or, if the tenant is not present, then left at the business’s premises. The person who serves the notice should complete an affidavit, as a process server does after service of process.

Different provisions for service of the initial notice of eviction can be agreed to in a commercial lease agreement. So both a commercial landlord and a commercial tenant should study their lease agreement and comply with any special provisions regarding notice of eviction.

The Florida statute does not require mailing by certified mail, return receipt requested, but it is recommended. The point is that a landlord wants to protect their interest by ensuring that they can prove service of the notice in court in the event the tenant should contest it.

At the end of the notice period, the landlord is permitted to file an unlawful detainer complaint in a local state court. The complaint must also be served to the tenant. The tenant must answer the complaint within 5 days or the landlord may seek a default judgment (i.e. the tenant automatically loses). If the tenant files a counterclaim, the landlord has 5 days to file an answer to the tenant’s claims.

After a few weeks, the parties will meet in court to attempt to settle the matter. If settlement cannot be reached, the case goes to trial. Although a jury trial is an option, most eviction cases are tried and decided by judges.

Should I Consult a Lawyer about an Eviction?

Commercial landlord-tenant law can be complex and technical. Timeframes for taking actions are short, e.g. a tenant has only 5 days after receiving the complaint for an unlawful detainer to file their answer. An experienced Florida landlord-tenant lawyer can review the terms of your commercial lease and help you understand your rights as well as your obligations. They can handle settlements, negotiations ,or represent you in court if that should become necessary.

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