Always Put an Occupancy Agreement in Writing

Friends and family (“property owner”) are normally willing to help a friend or family member (“occupant”) when they are fall on hard times and are in a transition and need a place to stay temporarily. Commonly, the property owner decides to help, but they do not get anything in writing, but sometimes the situation goes bad, and what started as a sincere desire to help the occupant turns into the property owner’s need to remove them from their home, because the occupant is causing problems or refuses to leave when asked. 

While many property owners do not feel there is a need to get an agreement in writing and signed by the occupant before the occupant takes possession of their home, it is absolutely a good idea to do so. So should the property owner do?

First, the property owner must decide if she is going treat the occupant as a tenant or simply an occupant with permission to occupy the property. If the property owner intends to require the occupant to pay rent or provide services in exchange for occupancy, then the occupant is a tenant, and at a bare minimum, the property owner needs to get in writing very basic terms, such as:

  • the rent payment owed
  • the day rent is owed
  • the day that rent is late
  • the term of the tenancy, i.e. week-to-week, month-to-month, or a specific period of time (from “x” date to “x” date). 

It is highly advisable that when helping an occupant that the tenancy term be either a week-to-week or month-to-month because the property owner can terminate the at-will tenancy with giving proper written notice pursuant to F.S. 83.57. Eve having basic terms of the agreement will go a long way to enforcing the tenancy agreement in case the occupant doesn’t pay rent or doesn’t leave when required.

If the property owner decides the occupant is going to provide services in exchange for occupancy, get in writing some very basic terms, such as:

  • the specifics of the services to be provided
  • a definable measure by which the property owner can enforce failure to perform the services required
  • the rent value of the services, (e.g. the value of the service equates to $750/month)
  • a term that provides that the property owner may require from the occupant money payment instead of services in case the property owner wants to change rent payment from service to money payment. 
  • a term that provides that if the property owner changes rent payment from services to money payment, the day money payment is due (e.g. on Monday in a week-to-week tenancy, on the first day of the month in a month-to-month tenancy).
  • the term of the tenancy, i.e. week-to-week, month-to-month, or a specific period (from “x” date to “x” date).

Again, having these very basic terms will help the property owner to enforce the occupant’s obligations during tenancy. In truth, if the property owner intends to enter into a tenancy agreement with the occupant, it is highly advisable to use a lease agreement prepared by a landlord-tenant attorney to protect the property owner’s interest. 

If the property owner is simply permitting the occupant to occupy the premises on a permission basis, the agreement needs to explicitly state this so that the occupant cannot claim that he had a tenancy agreement with the property owner, which will affect how an action for possession is filed and handled in court.

In addition to these very basic terms for both a tenancy and permissive occupancy, other terms should be included in the agreement, with subjects such as,

  • the treatment of the property
  • maintenance obligations
  • guest and visitor rules 
  • prohibited conduct

Normally, property owners do not expect or anticipate problems with the occupant who is reaching out for personal help, which is why the property owner is willing to permit them to occupy their property in the first place, but experience proves that problems can and do occur. Property owners will do themselves a favor by getting an agreement prepared and signed by the occupant before they permit them to enter or become a tenant. 

Property Management Law Solutions, LLC is a Florida law firm that specializes in landlord-tenant law and is a landlord-only law firm. We provide statewide services including evictions, consultation plans, education and training, membership plans, lease agreement plans and more. If you are a landlord or property manager, contact us today or subscribe to one of our online membership plans.