Corporate Landlords Need an Attorney

It is not uncommon to see corporate or company (“corporation”) landlords file eviction actions without an attorney. While some courts do not dismiss the eviction sua sponte (meaning, on their own without motion from the opposing party), courts in Florida are more frequently taking notice of corporations filing evictions without an attorney and are dismissing evictions not filed by an attorney. Here’s are some important things corporate landlords need to know.

Florida law has long prohibited corporations from filing legal actions on their own behalf without representation of an attorney. One Florida court emphasized this law in this residential eviction case:

It is well established that when a plaintiff is a corporate entity, and that plaintiff’s eviction complaint is not signed by an attorney, the complaint is a nullity. A corporation is not a person entitled to conduct its own suit, nor may it nominate a non-lawyer to do so. Since a corporation must be represented by counsel, the failure to have an attorney sign the complaint on behalf of the corporate entity makes the complaint void in its entirety.

Cedar Park Apartments v. Johnson, 23 Fla. L. Weekly Supp. 248a (Columbia County, August 17, 2015) (citations omitted).

Since the landlord in that case was a corporation but didn’t have an attorney file the eviction, the court ruled that the eviction complaint was “void…and should be dismissed”. 

Additionally, Florida law prohibits a corporation from nominating a non-lawyer to file an eviction—for example, a property manager. The Florida 3rd District Court of Appeals stated, “A corporation…may [not] nominate a nonlawyer to [appear in the legal action for the corporation.” Southeastern Associates, Inc. v. First Georgia Bank, 362 So. 2d 967 (1st DCA 1978). While a property manager (who meet the legal definition as such) may legally file an residential eviction action for non-payment of rent as long as the eviction is non-contested, this exception does not apply to corporate landlords. 

Unfortunately, many landlords, whether corporate and natural persons, are led astray by property managers and management companies across Florida into thinking that a property manager can legally file an eviction on behalf of the corporate landlord when they cannot. What’s more, persons who are not licensed real estate professionals under F.S. ch. 475 cannot even manage rental property for another person for compensation, much less file an eviction. See. F.S. 475.01.

Why would a corporate landlord want a non-lawyer to file an eviction on their behalf? The inherent liability risks are great and numerous in the rental business. Having a landlord-tenant attorney looking out for the landlord is just good business and even necessary with the rise of tenant litigation, market demands, and high costs of making mistakes.

The reality is, while the landlord may be saving a few dollars by having a non-lawyer file their evictions, the landlord is putting its company at risk of loss and liability by doing so–not just in regard to the filing of the eviction but also by not having a landlord legal expert speak into their business operations. And in truth, the landlord’s bottom line would improve by having a legal expert help them in their rental business.

At a minimum, corporate landlords (or their property manager) must have an attorney file the eviction action on behalf of the corporation. But more than that, corporate landlords should have a landlord-tenant legal expert assist them (or their property manager) in their rental business with advice, forms, notices, lease agreement, instructions, and education on a routine basis. This is where the real cost savings comes into play, for as the old adage goes, “an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.”

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.