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Law Blog

Unlawful Detention: When a Guest Wears Out His or Her Welcome

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.
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