Before you file an eviction, the landlord/plaintiff must serve the tenant/defendant with a notice. If the tenant has not paid rent, then you serve a 3 day notice. The notice does not have to be hand-delivered. The notice can be posted on the entrance. The 3 day notice should include the amount due, a local physical address to deliver the past due amount, the date of delivery and the deadline date for compliance. The 3 days should not include weekends or holidays; otherwise, the 3 day notice is invalid. Keep a copy of the 3 day notice because you will need it for the filing with the court.
You must file an eviction in the county in which the property is located. Your filing will include the filing fee, a complaint for eviction, an envelope addressed to tenant, and an eviction summons. Most clerks offices have self-help packages that you can purchase with forms to facilitate this sort of filing. Otherwise, you can check the internet for a form to complete and file. The filing fee is currently $185 with an additional $10 for each summons (defendant/tenant). The sheriff or a private process server (depending on the county) can serve the initial eviction. Additionally, the clerk will mail a copy of the complaint and summons to the tenant/defendant.
If the tenant/defendant fails to respond to the eviction action in 5 business days, the landlord/tenant can file the default package which includes the following: An affidavit of non-military service and non-payment; a signed Motion for Clerk's Default with a section for the Clerk to enter the Default; a Final Judgment, and a Writ of Possession. It is critical that the Final Judgment include a complete address that matches the address in the complaint.
Clerk's rabbit hole
The clerk reviews the documentation from the default package, particularly the non-military affidavit and the service return to determine whether the default is properly entered. If the affidavit is correct and the appropriate 5 business days have passed since the service, the clerk will enter the default.
Occasionally, the Defendant/Tenant will file an Answer or a Motion to Dismiss. If the Tenant/Defendant files such a document without depositing money in the court registry, the landlord/tenant can file a Motion to Strike. The Motion to Strike recognizes prevailing case law that precludes ANY defense other than payment without a deposit into the court registry. The Motion to Strike should be filed with an Order to Strike for the judge's signature and all other elements of the Default package mentioned above.
Getting past the roadblocks
Florida courts have a well developed county court mediation system for evictions. Thus, the judge is most likely to refer a case to mediation if the Defendant/Tenant files an answer and deposits money in the court registry. The key is to communicate with the judicial assistant assigned to the case to ensure you get the earliest date for mediation as possible.
Mediation is a process that encourages self-determination and confidentiality. If the parties are able to come to some terms for resolution of the dispute, the mediation will conclude with a documentation of the "deal" called a stipulation. All parties, their counsel and the mediator sign off on the stipulation. If the tenant/defendant fails to honor the obligations set forth in the stipulation, an affidavit of non-compliance to the judge will generally allow you to fast track to the writ of possession. If the matter should go to final hearing, the key becomes evidence of payment (or lack thereof). A landlord wants to bring as much documentation as possible that supports the fact that monies are owed. Remember the judge is the trier of fact. Give the judge what he/she needs to rule in your favor.
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