Florida’s eviction laws are meant to be landlord-friendly and quick. The statute is written so as not to waste a court’s time with unrelated defenses when the issue is very clear: the rent is unpaid.
Under normal circumstances, this mechanism keeps rental spaces competitive and flowing: the tenant can’t afford a space, the landlord gets the space back, and the world continues to turn. But these are not normal circumstances.
Understanding this, Florida’s Governor issued a temporary moratorium on residential evictions back in March. But what about commercial evictions?
With the COVID19 pandemic, it is evident that a large percentage of businesses are not paying rent.
My law firm has handled hundreds and hundreds of evictions, and I can tell you that the process is aggressive and fast. Florida courts are generally required to ignore defenses to an eviction action if the tenant does not deposit past due rent into the court registry. As the months of unpaid rent accumulate, the amount that commercial tenants will need to deposit into the court registry will become exceedingly high. As a result, businesses will be evicted with Florida’s summary process at unprecedented levels. In a matter of weeks, your favorite restaurant, bar, boutique and hair salon can all be wiped out, all without a meaningful opportunity to defend themselves. While we’ve experienced various mechanisms at prolonging or getting around the court registry deposit, the statute is clear on this requirement and landlords will try to get this enforced.
The damages are going to be staggering. Not only will many of these businesses be required to close, but they’ll also lose many, if not most, of the physical investments that they’ve made into the commercial spaces.
Florida needs to eliminate the rent deposit requirement if the state hopes to keep its businesses alive. If commercial tenants are able to raise defenses without having to deposit all of the past due rent into the court registry, the legal playing field for landlords and tenants will be more even, and businesses will get a more meaningful opportunity to defend themselves. Short of bankruptcy, an opportunity to raise defenses in an eviction action can be the only hope that many businesses will have in order to stay afloat.
I think that this topic is not getting enough attention because commercial eviction procedures are not common knowledge. But as businesses owners continue to choose between being current on their rent or feeding their families, they may have to learn first hand that the process is meant to not even give them a chance to survive.