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Real estate Q&A: 'Self-help' evictions no help to landlord

Published: Thursday, June 14, 2012

Updated: Thursday, June 14, 2012 10:06


QUESTION: I rented a house to a new tenant almost two months ago. The tenant was supposed to get the water transferred to her name so she could pay for it. Now, not only did she not pay the rent, but I am still paying for her water. Can I shut off my own water account? - John

ANSWER: No. I am afraid that ship may have sailed. Because of the circumstances, it could look like you are canceling the water account out of retribution and in an attempt to make your tenant leave the property. Most states do not allow "self-help" or "constructive" evictions in which the landlord forces the tenant out of the home by cutting the utilities or changing the locks. Instead, you must file a lawsuit against your tenant for possession of the property and/or back rent.

Until such time as you obtain a court order sending law enforcement to evict the tenant, you will need to maintain the conditions as they were before. And yes, this means you may even have to fix the air conditioner if it breaks during this time. There are stiff penalties for self-help evictions, and you don't want to make the situation worse by having to write the tenant, and her smiling attorney, a large check. Next time, make sure that all utility transfers are handled by the time that the tenant moves in or shortly thereafter.

Q: When I moved into my condominium, the monthly dues were $124. Now, just a few years later, I'm paying $320 a month, and I really don't notice anything different or better in the way the association takes care of the place. Is there any limit to how high the dues can go? - Rosina

A: In Florida, the law does not provide a limit on how much your dues, and the association's budget, can go up in any given year. But if the increase in the budget is more than 115 percent of the previous year, 10 percent of the unit owners may petition for a meeting to try to get a different budget passed.

Also, your individual association's governing documents may have certain rules regarding this issue, so you should check that. Remember that your association is like a little government in which your neighbors are elected to the board and volunteer their time to help serve the entire community. If you have helpful suggestions, or don't like what's going on, you should go to the board meetings and make your opinions known. If that still does not help the situation, you may want to consider running for office yourself and taking part in governing your community the way that you, and your neighbors that vote for you, envision.

Gary M. Singer is a Florida attorney and board-certified as an expert in real estate law by the Florida Bar. He is the chairperson of the Real Estate Section of the Broward County Bar Association and is an adjunct professor for the Nova Southeastern University Paralegal Studies program. Send him questions online at or follow him on Twitter @GarySingerLaw.

The information and materials in this column are provided for general informational purposes only and are not intended to be legal advice. No attorney-client relationship is formed. Nothing in this column is intended to substitute for the advice of an attorney, especially an attorney licensed in your jurisdiction.

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