Often, an owner allows a guest to stay at the owner’s property free of charge.
The guest could be a friend, or maybe family member. The property could be
where the owner lives, or another property he or she owns. Because the guest is
allowed to stay without paying rent, there is no lease. What happens then, when
the owner requests the guest to leave, but the guest refuses? Because there is no
lease, the guest cannot be evicted like a tenant. However, Florida law does
provide a remedy when a guest refuses to leave; a lawsuit can be filed for
unlawful detention, as provided for in Chapter 82, Florida Statutes.
An unlawful detention action is similar to a tenant eviction in that it is an action
for possession of property. It is governed by the rules of summary procedure and
is filed in county court. The owner doesn’t have to have a reason to demand that
a guest leave. The owner simply has to make the demand and if the guest refuses
to leave, an unlawful detention suit can be filed. Barring an unusual defense, such
as a guest claiming a legal or equitable ownership interest in the property, an
unlawful detention action can typically be completed in 4-6 weeks.
In most cases, the guest leaves sometime during the pendency of the lawsuit, or
after entry of a final judgment. If the defendant/guest remains on the property
after final judgment, then the guest will be removed by the sheriff after issuance
of a writ of possession, like in an eviction. In addition to a judgment for
possession, the court may also award damages. If the defendant/guest’s
detention is determined by the court to be willful and knowingly, then the court
must award damages equal to double the reasonable rental value of the property
during the period of unlawful detention.