When Rental Occupants Commit a Crime

A fairly common situation occurs in the world of landlord-tenant law. That is, when an occupant, guest or invitee–not the tenant–commits a crime or dangerous activity in or near the rental property. Inevitably, the landlord questions whether he has a remedy or grounds to terminate the lease and evict if necessary. The answer to the question is, it depends. Thus, a prepared landlord must have certain things in place to have a remedy against a tenant in this situation.

First, since Florida Statute ch. 83, pt. 2 does not specifically provide the landlord with a remedy against a tenant when a guest, occupant or invitee commits criminal or dangerous activity, the best way to ensure the landlord has a remedy against the tenant is to make provision in the lease agreement. Otherwise, the landlord may be without a remedy as to the tenant–since the tenant is not the one who committed the criminal or dangerous activity.

The lease agreement must first define the obligations of the tenant, to include activities of the guests, invitees, and occupants. For example,

Obligations imposed on Tenant for using the premises include all tenants and extend to ensure that Tenant’s guests, invitees, family and any other person occupying the premises, with or without Tenant’s knowledge or permission, comply with the Use of Premises obligations.

Next, the lease should prohibit all criminal activity, whether in or near the premises. For example,

Tenant, any member of the Tenant’s household, guest, invitee, occupant, or other person under the Tenant’s control shall not engage in any criminal activity, including permitting, aiding, abetting, facilitating, concealing, or conspiring the same.

Next, the lease should also prohibit dangerous activity and impose on the tenant a duty of notifying the landlord of any such activity. For example,

Tenant, …. shall not commit any act that jeopardizes the safety or welfare of any person and subjects the premises or property therein to civil forfeiture. Tenant shall immediately notify Landlord of any criminal investigation, arrest, warrant, notice to appear against the Tenant, co-tenants, guest, invitee, or occupants. Violating this provision is a non-curable breach.

The lease should also provide that a criminal conviction is not required and that this kind of violation is non-curable. (Note: some tenant advocates argue that evicting tenants who possess certain drugs, e.g. marijuana, creates a disparate impact on minorities and thus is cause for housing discrimination. See article.)

With these provisions, the landlord would have a remedy against the tenant in the event a guest, occupant or invitee commits a criminal or dangerous activity in or near the premises. The landlord would be able to deliver a 7 day notice (non-curable) to terminate the lease. If the tenant failed to vacate the premises as demanded, the landlord would be able to file an eviction based on that 7 day notice.

The 7 day notice must be legally sufficient, or else the tenant (defendant) may have a defense against an eviction action based on the 7 day notice. To be legally sufficient, the 7 day notice must contain specific enough to give the tenant notice as to the activity that forms the basis of the notice.

For an example of a 7 Day Notice (Non-Curable), click 7 day Notice to Terminate (non-curable violation)