There are several defenses a tenant can use for fighting an eviction. The most commonly used tactic and one required by the court is to formally respond to the eviction notice.
The tenant has five days (exclusive of Saturdays, Sundays, and holidays) after service of the summons to file a written answer to the eviction complaint filed against them. This answer can be filed electronically via the Florida Courts ePortal, through US Mail, or in person at the specific clerk’s office.
If you're unsure if the 5 days have passed, call the specific clerk's office where the eviction was filed to ask for an update on the deadline.
Dispute can help you file your response in minutes from your phone or computer as well.
Frequently Used Tenant Defenses for Challenging in Florida
Here are some of the arguments we've seen users describe as tenants who want to stop an eviction in Florida:
Landlord Used "Self-Help" Eviction
A landlord cannot participate in "self-help" eviction procedures. This includes forcing a tenant to leave a rental unit by shutting off the utilities to the apartment or unit, or changing the locks on the doors.
Any landlord who does one of these actions could end up owing the tenant damages worth up to three months' rent (under "prohibited practices" section of Florida laws: Fla. Stat. Ann. § 83.67).
Landlord's Eviction Notice to the Tenant Had Clerical Errors
Landlords in Florida must follow very specific rules and procedures when creating and delivering eviction notices to tenants.
If an eviction notice does not have key information such as the date the tenant must be out of the rental unit, then the eviction notice may be considered defective by the court. The landlord must then fix the error and then resend the eviction notice to the tenant again.
Please note: this defense may not stop an eviction completely if the landlord is justified in evicting the tenant: It can simply give you more time to live in the rental unit before being evicted.
Landlord Does Not Have Justification to Evict (Nonpayment of Rent)
There may be several defenses available to a tenant to challenge an eviction for nonpayment of rent:
- Renter has Paid Late Rent (In Full):
- If you receive a three-day notice to vacate for failure to pay rent and yet you pay the rent in full during the three-day time period, then the landlord cannot proceed with the eviction (see Fla. Stat. Ann. § 83.56(3)).
- If the landlord proceeds with the eviction anyway, the tenant can use the payment of rent as a defense.
- Renter has not paid rent because the landlord has failed to maintain the rental unit premises:
- Following the Florida state landlord-tenant laws, a landlord has an obligation to comply with all Florida building codes and health codes.
- If there is not an applicable building, housing, or health code, then the landlord has an obligation to keep the structure and plumbing of the rental unit in good repair. If the landlord fails to follow the applicable codes or keep the rental unit in good repair, then the tenant must notify the landlord in writing of the defect and of the tenant's intent to not pay rent.
- The tenant must give the landlord seven days to fix the defect. If the landlord does not fix the defect within seven days of receiving the notice, the tenant is then justified in not paying rent. The landlord's failure to fix the defect can be a complete defense to the eviction lawsuit, meaning the landlord will lose the case (see Fla. Stat. Ann. § 83.60(1)).
- Landlord does not have the legal justification to evict (Lease Violation):
- If the tenant is violating a portion of the lease, the landlord must give the tenant an opportunity to fix the violation, if possible, before proceeding with an eviction lawsuit. The tenant must be given up to seven days to fix the violation.
- If the tenant fixes the violation within seven days, the landlord must not proceed with the eviction.
- If the landlord proceeds with the eviction even after the tenant fixed the violation, the tenant can use the fact that the violation was fixed within the time period as a defense to the eviction (see Fla. Stat. Ann. § 83.56(2)(b)).
Landlord Is Retaliating Against the Tenant:
A landlord cannot evict a tenant in Florida in retaliation of certain acts the tenant may have committed. According to Fla. Stat. Ann. § 83.64, these acts include, but are not limited to:
- complaining to a government agency that the landlord violated a building, housing, or health code
- participating in or organizing a tenant's organization
- complaining to the landlord for not maintaining the rental unit
- terminating the rental agreement because the tenant has been called to active duty in the military (see Fla. Stat. Ann. § 83.682).
If the landlord proceeds with an eviction lawsuit after the tenant exercises one of the rights listed above, then the tenant may be able to use retaliation as a defense to the eviction lawsuit.
Landlord Evicts the Tenant Based on Discrimination
Both the federal Fair Housing Act and the Florida Fair Housing Act make it illegal for a landlord to discriminate against a tenant based on race, religion, gender, national origin, familial status (including children under the age of 18 and pregnant women), and disability. A landlord cannot evict their tenant due to any of these characteristics.
If you believe your landlord is evicting you and is in violation of the federal Fair Housing Act or the Florida Fair Housing Act, the tenant can use that discrimination as a defense against the eviction.
If you have any additional questions about filing an answer to an eviction notice, please don't hesitate to reach out.