The Complete Hillsborough County Eviction Process Guide
Owning rental properties can be a great way to build long-term financial stability. This is particularly true in the Tampa area, where there are lots of tourists - and service members moving into the region stationed at MacDill Air Force Base. Of course, there are also downsides to being a landlord - such as dealing with problem tenants.
In some cases, it may not be necessary to evict a tenant who is violating a lease term or is behind on rent. If you do need to terminate a lease, however, you must follow a legal process that starts with giving proper notice. You must then file an eviction lawsuit in the Hillsborough County Court. To legally evict a tenant, you must go through the court process and obtain a writ of possession from the judge.
At Eaton Realty, we understand the pros and cons of being a landlord in the West Central Florida area. Our property management services aim to make owning investment properties easy. We will handle all aspects of property management, from marketing to maintenance to tenant screening to evictions. Reach out to talk to a member of our real estate team about your property management needs.
When Can You Evict a Tenant in Hillsborough County?
There are two ways to end a lease agreement in Florida. First,you can simply end a tenancy at the conclusion of a lease term by notifying the tenant that you will not renew the lease. The amount of notice you have to give will depend on the type of rental agreement. For example, you must provide a 15-day notice for a month-to-month lease.
Second, you can terminate a tenancy for cause. “Cause” means there is some reason to end the lease before it expires. You can terminate a tenancy for a range of reasons, such as non-payment of rent, causing a public disturbance, engaging in illegal activity, subletting without permission, or violating the lease in some other way. For example, if a tenant gets a pet in a pet-free unit - and it isn’t a service dog or an emotional support animal - then you could evict them for breaking the terms of the lease.
When you terminate a tenancy for cause, the underlying reason cannot be illegal. Under both federal and Florida law, you cannot make housing decisions in a discriminatory manner. Fair Housing laws dictate that you cannot evict a tenant based on their race, color, national origin, religion, sex (including gender identity and sexual orientation), familial status, or disability.
You also cannot evict a tenant in retaliation for exercising their rights in some way. For example, if a tenant reports you to Hillsborough County code enforcement for a safety issue on your property, you cannot retaliate by evicting them. If you evict a tenant for an illegal reason, you might have to pay them damages and be fined by the state and federal government. A property management company can help to ensure that you are not making housing decisions that could result in legal problems.
Providing an Eviction Notice
If you have decided to evict a tenant, you will have to provide them notice before moving forward with an eviction lawsuit. Sometimes, you must also give the tenant time to fix the problem.
The length of time that you will need to give them will depend on the reason that you are pursuing eviction:
- 3-day notice to pay rent or quit: for non-payment of rent, a tenant must be given three days to either get current on rent or vacate the premises.
- 7-day notice to cure: if the tenant has committed a lease violation that can be fixed, they must be given a 7-day notice to cure. In the example above involving a pet, the tenant could be given a week to find a new home for their animal. If they don’t, you could continue with the eviction.
- 7-day unconditional quit notice: if the tenant intentionally destroys the rental property or other tenants’ property, creates unreasonable disturbances, or repeats the same lease violation within one year, you will give them a 7-day notice to leave without a chance to fix the problem.
A notice must be hand delivered or sent via certified mail to the tenant at their address. If they no longer live there, you can either leave a notice on the door or send it to their new address (if known). You should keep a copy of the notice to support the eviction lawsuit.
Filing an Eviction Action
Landlords cannot engage in self-help eviction - you must follow the legal process for evicting a tenant. You cannot shut off utilities, put a tenant’s possessions on the street, or change the locks to force them out of the rental property. If you try to evict a tenant outside of the court process, you could owe the tenant money (even if they are behind on rent!).
Instead, you must wait for the notice period to end. If the tenant hasn’t paid rent or fixed the problem (if applicable), you can file an eviction lawsuit. To do so, you will need to draft a complaint that includes your name and contact information, the tenant’s name and contact information, and the address of the rental property. It should also include any supporting evidence, such as the lease and a copy of the eviction notice that you hopefully saved.
The eviction complaint will then be filed in the Hillsborough County Circuit Court (assuming that the property is located in Hillsborough County.) You will also need to pay a filing fee, which is $185 for eviction only, plus anywhere from $55 to $400 for claims involving damages. For example, if your tenant owes you $2,000 in back rent, you will pay the $185 filing fee for eviction plus $175.00 for the damages claim.
Once you have filed the complaint and paid the appropriate fee to the Clerk of Court, you must serve the tenant a copy of the lawsuit. Many landlords choose to use a process server for this. The tenant must file a response, known as an answer, to the eviction complaint within five days of receiving it.
If the tenant does not file an answer, you can ask the court for a default judgment. If they contest the lawsuit, they will file an answer listing any eviction defenses or reasons they should not be evicted. In some cases, the eviction defense is related to a bigger issue - like the rental property being uninhabitable. In other cases, the defense might focus on a technical reason, such as that the eviction notice did not list the number of days they had to cure or quit.
If a tenant contests the eviction, the court will schedule a hearing. Contested evictions can take longer due to court schedules. At this hearing, each side will have an opportunity to present evidence and testimony and make arguments supporting their case. The judge will then weigh the evidence and testimony before ruling in favor of the tenant or the landlord.
If the landlord wins, the judge will issue a writ of possession. A writ of possession is a legal document telling the tenant they have 24 hours to vacate the property. If they refuse to leave the rental unit, the County Sheriff can forcibly evict them. Remember: self-help eviction is illegal. Even if you have a writ of possession, you cannot remove the tenant yourself.
The eviction process can be time-consuming and expensive. Florida’s eviction laws can often seem unfair for landlords - particularly when a tenant is actively costing you money, and you can’t simply get them to leave. Moreover, even minor errors in the process can result in a judgment in favor of the tenant.
A property manager can often help you avoid many of these issues by using their experience to find quality tenants less likely to require an eviction. They can also address problems as they arise, which can prevent a relatively minor problem from becoming a big one that will lead to an eviction. If an eviction is necessary, they will work with you to ensure that it goes as smoothly as possible - and will help you get your next tenant in place as quickly as they can.
Work with Eaton Realty to Manage Your Rental Properties
The potential for financial growth with investment properties is vast. Your rental properties will gain equity while your tenants pay the mortgage - and you earn passive income. Of course, with these advantages come drawbacks, such as handling tenants who don’t pay rent, violate the lease, or otherwise cause problems.
Eaton Realty is a Tampa property management company that helps investors and landlords throughout Hillsborough County with their rental properties. We have significant experience in all aspects of Florida real estate, including property management. Our services include everything from preparing your property for listing to marketing your rental unit to handling tenant screening, rent collection, maintenance requests, and (when necessary) evictions.
To learn more about our property management services, fill out our online contact form or call our office at 813-592-8582.