Self-help eviction is the act of a landlord taking back possession of a rental property without going through the legal process of eviction. This can be done by changing the locks, removing the tenant’s belongings, or turning off the utilities. Self-help evictions are illegal in Florida, and landlords can be held liable for damages if they engage in this practice.
Florida law specifically prohibits landlords from:
- Locking out a tenant or removing the tenant’s belongings from the rental property without a court order
- Changing the locks on the rental property without the tenant’s permission
- Turning off the utilities to the rental property without a court order
- Threatening or harassing a tenant in an attempt to force them to leave the rental property
If a landlord engages in any of these self-help evictions, the tenant may sue the landlord for damages. The tenant may be able to recover actual damages, consequential damages, or three months’ rent, whichever is greater. The tenant may also be able to recover their attorney’s fees and costs.
Actual damages are any costs that the tenant incurred as a result of the self-help eviction, such as the cost of finding a new place to live, the cost of storing their belongings, or the cost of lost wages.
Consequential damages are damages that are a foreseeable result of the self-help eviction, such as emotional distress or damage to the tenant’s credit rating.
Three months’ rent is the minimum amount of damages that a tenant can recover in a self-help eviction case, even if the tenant did not suffer any actual or consequential damages.
In addition to damages, the tenant may also be able to obtain a court order requiring the landlord to restore the tenant to possession of the rental property and to stop engaging in any further self-help evictions.
Here are some examples of self-help eviction:
- A landlord changes the locks on the rental property while the tenant is away
- A landlord removes the tenant’s belongings from the rental property and puts them on the curb
- A landlord turns off the electricity or water to the rental property
- A landlord threatens the tenant with physical violence if they do not leave the rental property
Landlords in Florida are prohibited from engaging in self-help evictions. If a landlord does engage in a self-help eviction, the tenant may be able to sue the landlord for damages.