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Pandemics, Hurricanes, and Court Registry Payments in Florida Commercial Eviction Actions

Almost regardless of the question, the answer you get from your knowledgeable South Florida landlord-tenant attorney is probably going to be “it depends” most of the time. Very few things in the law are always “yes or no;” most require a deep dive into the unique facts of the case.

That, however, isn’t always true. The law can be very strict sometimes. The key, whether you are a commercial landlord or a tenant in Florida, is understanding what your obligations are and what leeway you do (or don’t) have on fulfilling those obligations. This is one of the vital areas where your experienced attorney will be able to help greatly.

The issue of “extenuating circumstances” and what difference they will (or won’t) make when it comes to your commercial eviction case is more important than ever here in this time of COVID-19. As we all know, for a significant period of time during the previous year, almost everything — even the courthouse and the court clerk’s office — was shut down to slow the spread of the virus. So, what happens if you (or your tenant) are under an obligation to pay money into the court registry on a certain date during a time of emergency… be it a natural disaster or a viral pandemic?

As a 2020 case illustrates, if the courthouse was open, then the law is very unforgiving for tenants and very advantageous for landlords.

One Day Late in the Middle of a Pandemic was Still too Late

In that case from last year, a Broward County landlord filed an eviction action and the trial court ordered the tenant to pay $848 into the court registry on the first of each month. For July, the tenant mailed the check on June 29, but it was not deposited into the court registry until the second of July. The appeals court ruled that the landlord was entitled to a default judgment of eviction.

As the appeals court noted, the statute, Section 83.232(5), gives the trial court very little discretion, even if that means a result that might “be harsh.” If the payment was even just one day late, then the courts must award the landlord its desired eviction judgment.

That remains true even if there are closures and lockdowns related to a viral pandemic. The Third District court’s April 2021 ruling regarding a gunsmith shop and its Miami-Dade County landlord made the rule quite clear. If the tenant’s payment was due on the first and that payment came after the first, then the tenant’s only possible argument will be that the court was closed on the first and paying on the first was impossible, which means a judgment of eviction could possibly be a violation of the tenant’s constitutional rights. If that’s not the case, then eviction is the automatic result.

No Exception for Late Payment During Hurricanes, Either

Natural disasters also will not excuse late payment unless the result was the closure of the court registry on the deadline day itself. For example, a different Broward County landlord sought eviction of its tenant in 2019 and the trial court established a series of rent payments and made them due on the first of the month. The tenant was unable to pay the September rent on Friday, August 30 because the court was closed due to Hurricane Dorian. The next day that the court was open, the tenant paid $6,695.

The problem was, though, that the correct amount was $6,808. The result of that $113 shortage? A judgment of eviction. Even this case’s facts, which included a question about the correct amount owed and the presence of a natural disaster in the midst of this deadline, were not enough for the tenant to escape a judgment of eviction.

Whether you’re a commercial landlord or a commercial tenant, it is a vitally important business need to understand what obligations the law imposes. To make sure that you are doing everything you can to protect and advance your business interests, rely on the knowledgeable advice and effective advocacy of the experienced South Florida landlord-tenant attorneys at Stok Kon + Braverman. Our attorneys have the skills and the know-how to get you the outcome you deserve.

Contact us online or by calling (954) 237-1777 to schedule your consultation.

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