Florida: Tenant in Jail, complete stranger in house

28 Replies

I bought a house in Palm Beach County this year and it came with an existing tenant with a lease. The lease has only one tenant's name and says up to 5 children under the age of 18.  After I closed, the county removed the children from her custody because of abuse.  Then the tenant was arrested a few weeks ago and will be in jail for a long time. The charge is about as serious as you can get. 

My property manager went to the house and there is a guy living there (over 18).  We have not seen him before or know who he is.  He may have moved in after the tenant was thrown in jail, or maybe he was there before that.  We just don't know.

My lawyer is telling me there is nothing I can do to get this guy out other than go through the formal eviction process against the tenant that is in jail.  I really can't believe that I have no option but to let some unknown stranger who is not on the lease and not allowed to live there just live in this house until an eviction is complete.  My house could be destroyed by then.  He could have wild parties.  Steal fixtures, plumbing, appliances, whatever and I just have to let that happen?

Are there any others with similar experiences or any lawyers familiar with Florida law that can help me?

Thank you.

Your lawyer is probably correct, and yes, it is messed up. I think if the state mandates that you allow this person to live there for now, the state should be obligated to compensate property owners for the lost rent.

You might try to offer him a few hundred bucks to move, if he doesn't damage the house and will move within 48 hours, cheaper and easier than eviction.

I agree with Ron, I'd go talk to the guy and offer him cash to leave and avoid the cost of the eviction. He may prefer to walk with a little incentive. It's hard to consider giving a squatter money, definitely unfair!!! but Florida is a pro-tenant state and an eviction will cost you more. Good luck!

Plain and simple,, knock, tell the guy you'll wait why he packs up his stuff and he has to leave.. what ya got to lose.. I'wouldn't offer him 10 cents... maybe some garbage bags (take with) to pack his stuff in... 

You'll have to follow FLA law in regards to packing a storing the actual tenants junk which is bad enough..

If guy says,, XXX said I could stay here,, I'd just say you have an hour.. If I have to call police you'll probably get 5 min.. 

Once your in the door don't back out.. and bring a extra lock set with to put on new locks as soon as he's out..

This or,, yup eviction action, for tenant,, and others... If possible check with prison she's at and find out how you can have her sign a release that will let you let someone pick up her stuff and that she had to vacate .  It's better than filing on her and paying court filing fee's for nothing... 

Take someone with you when you go to apt to standby,, hopefully a tall big burly silent type.. 

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My personal choice is Deanna's first option. I would go with a couple of friends, knock, enter and take possession. Bring a suit case and make plans to stay while you and your friends move him out. 

Make sure you have a copy of the lease with you to show police and tell them he never lived in the property he just showed up while you were moving your tenants property to storage.

Thanks everyone.  Even if I pay him (not on the lease) to leave, I still have to go through the eviction process against the person on the lease. She is in jail.

Lying to police could get YOU thrown in jail. Then we would have the tenant and the landlord in jail, and John Doe sitting in the place rent free.

"Lying to police could get YOU thrown in jail."

Yes it can but it won't unless maybe you are a person of interest in a criminal investigation but even then it is extremely rare.. Highly unlikely police will have any compassion for squatter. 

Based on my numerous interactions with police as a landlord.

"Sorry" goes a long way to smooth over petty issues like this. Anything that saves the officer from having to do additional paperwork. 

I do an eviction with the name of the tenant and John Doe tenant.  The person inside may have paperwork showing him as renting from her or fake paperwork, so easier to just do a regular eviction and pay the extra for the process server to do 2 at the same address.  I use a private process server and pay for fast service since the sheriff in my county takes a week or so to make two trips and post the 5 day notice.   If he actually takes the paperwork, then you get a money judgement against the tenant in addition to the writ of possession.  Also, you set the tenant's possessions on the side of the road and anything worth keeping will disappear within 24 hours.  The rest goes to the dump as is isn't worth storing.

Showing up and doing self help getting rid of the person living at the address could be considered an illegal eviction (even if he had no right to be there) and subject you to paying his actual damages, court costs and attorney fees.

Sounds like a bad situation. I would definitely go knock on the door and feel it out. Check the place out for any damages. If it was in ok shape I'd tell him he would be paying month to month and I would allow him enough time to relocate. That's if you get a good feeling about the situation. I wouldn't worry about the lease you have. That lady is in jail. That should be grounds enough for the lease to be terminated. Especially if the crime of child abuse was being committed on your property. I don't see how the guy wouldn't be able to be removed by the sheriffs if his technically trespassing on your property. 

OK here is the bad news: you cannot legally just toss him out if he refuses to leave. Florida has a law regarding tenancy. If you or anyone else, including your tenant, let anyone stay OVERNIGHT and they bring clothes, etc...they are a TENANT. Your eviction process will be against the tenant and unknown tenants in possession. Your lawyer IS correct as sad as this is. You CANNOT legally change the locks. Tenancy is RIGHT OF POSSESION/USE. At this time, if you have given someone RIGHT OF POSSESION/USE...the only way to get them out is cash for keys or go through the courts. This even goes for someone who you did NOT have a lease with. Ever heard of tenancy at sufferance? That is a tenant--maybe one refusing to pay rent--or in this case a stranger---and you are stuck with them. Tenancy at sufferance--the landlord suffers.
I would try cash for keys first..eviction second. However, if the jailbird tenant continues to pay you are stuck with her until you resolve possession issues. If she does not pay--post the required notice to pay or vacate--the file the eviction. If you just change the locks the current tenant COULD have legal recourse. These types often seek something for nothing...and you could be just the guy to give it to them. DON'T BE!

Originally posted by @Kelly Moniz :

Sounds like a bad situation. I would definitely go knock on the door and feel it out. Check the place out for any damages. If it was in ok shape I'd tell him he would be paying month to month and I would allow him enough time to relocate. That's if you get a good feeling about the situation. I wouldn't worry about the lease you have. That lady is in jail. That should be grounds enough for the lease to be terminated. Especially if the crime of child abuse was being committed on your property. I don't see how the guy wouldn't be able to be removed by the sheriffs if his technically trespassing on your property. 

 If the unknown tenant in possession was allowed to move in by the jailbird tenant they DO have legal rights and are not trespassing. Welcome to Florida:) Fortunately, Florida is a pretty friendly landlord law state, and they don't let people get away with the kind of stuff they do in MA and some other nutty places.

Here is the latest update.  I started the eviction process which my lawyer told me I had to do.  I went to the house yesterday with my property manager and the police.  We went inside and no one was there, but there are definite signs that someone is living there. There is opened food laying around covered with bugs and maggots.  The utility companies turned off both the water and electric for non-payment (of course the tenant is in jail). The doors were locked but the back window was broken and the screen clearly cut to make it easy to get in and out there.  I had the window boarded.

Today, my landscaping guy was cutting the grass and cleaning up the grounds.  He called my PM and said a man was trying to get inside.  He put the man on the phone and he tells my PM that he paid a guy rent to live in a room in the house. My PM told him he can't go into the house and whoever he paid rent to has no right to rent it.

So now I have a situation where the only person signed on the lease is in jail for a very long time. No rent is being paid. Utilities are turned off.  Some unknown guy told some other unknown guy that he will rent him a room in the house.  The guy paid rent and moved in.  So the guy that got paid rent committed theft by selling something he doesn't own or has no right to.

I called my lawyer and explained the situation.  She says I still can't change the locks or keep anyone out until eviction is complete.  I am just supposed to leave anyone have access to the house just as if they have a right to live there.  The house is a total mess with no water and electric.

My landscaper said the unknown guy went into the house after he talked to my PM.  Who said this is a landlord friendly state?

If I change the locks, I can't imagine any judge would not take my side.  It's not like the tenant went out shopping and I changed her locks to keep her out. 

This is a LL friendly state. Your beef is with the person that signed the lease. Good thing the other person is gone although I suspect your attorney covered all the bases and filed on the leasee as well as the other person they let move in. Good thing utilities are off as well. You could not legally shut those off. I personally have had several houses copied and posted on CL for cheap rent. I personally know a PM that went to a house to give a tenant keys and there was someone living there that had rented it from a con artist. Know what is required in that case? Eviction! As to changing the locks I suspect your lawyer is correct. Until YOU have possession you can't do that. At this point you don't know WHO has legal possession. Crazy but true.

Why don't you send the tenant in jail a letter offering a few hundred bucks to have her sign a termination? That could be much cheaper/faster than having to file an eviction. 

Sounds like a good idea @Ryan Dossey but I would run that past the attorney before I gave her a dime. She can leave, but there is still another person in possession that MAY have legal rights to be there. 

@John Thedford Absolutely agree. But it sounds like the attorney is less worried about what is obviously a squatter and more worried about the lease with the detained tenant. I would ask the attorney to send a letter on my behalf. I don't think most people want to harm another person financially for no reason (although I guess we don't know why the tenant is incarcerated!) .

Sorry for your troubles John but the law is clear.  I can attest to that because my brother owned a condo and my Mother was the tenant.  My sister moved in with her boyfriend for free.  Mom went into the hospital and my brother flew down here and we went to get her out and change the locks.  She called the police and told them her mother gave her permission to stay with her.  Police made him change the locks back and she could stay or get evicted which takes at least 6 weeks unless she contests it.  Long story short, we paid her to leave and that took card of the matter.  You think you own a place and 

It's a mess and your going to have a mess to clean after you get possession. I'd go daily and make sure the house is secure, board up the window from outside daily if needed. You still have right to protect your property. 

I'd advise police of situation so they know.

This worked for me recently.  I offered the 2 squatter/previous tenants?? money too leave and assistance in relocating and boxes, etc.  I told them the amount of money would be based on the condition of the house.  House was a total gut rehab so I encouraged the squatters to take (for scrap) any appliances and fixtures I knew would be going anyway.  I told squatters that the city had sent a nasty letter and would be taking action to make the property vacant if I didn't resolve this situation asap.  I brought cleaning supplies, boxes and bags to them on Wed and said I would be back that Fri.  I communicated regularly with them through Fri, showed up to relocate.  House was as clean as it could be.  Everything was still intact, except for items I told them were up for grabs.  I brought a contract for them to sign stating they were vacating freely and gave each $100.00.  Gave a guy down th road with a truck $10 to move 1 squatter to his destination and I moved the other squatter, in my truck, to his destination.  Went back and boarded the house up, changed the locks, went to police station and got a "NO Trespass" order so that anyone caught on property would be trespassed by police.  Eviction would have been $700 ish (court fees, no attorney) and more time, plus they could have gotten mad at me and really destroyed the place.  Instead, it was quicker, cheaper, and THEY felt like I was doing everything I could to help them out.  I often question how roughly $220.00 and some effort to get boxes, etc together was enough to get them to leave willingly and peacefully.  Talk to the guy and see what you can work out.  You, like I was, may be surprised at what you can work out.  Be cool about it but also be firm about it.  Good Luck! 

Just read the eviction part.  Oh well, best of luck

Any updates to this situation? 

Does Florida have a squatter law or anything to address trespassers?  In AZ we have something that avoids eviction if there is a squatter. 

I would call the police and tell them that someone is trespassing on your property and let the police go figure out what his deal is.  Most likely, if he can't produce a lease (which if he isn't on the lease, he can't produce one), they will escort him off the property.  Who knows...he may even be a fugitive!  If the tenant was a criminal, this may be her co-hort.  I would send the police over there to sort it out.

I would not leave him there any longer than you have to.  who knows what he is doing to your property....Or even to the tenant's stuff.  Something that hasn't been addressed here is that you may have an obligation to the tenant in regards to her personal property.  

Yikes!  Best of luck to you!!

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