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What Happens When a Commercial Tenant Retains Possession of a Leased Space After the Lease Term Expired?

Commercial landlords face many potential challenges with regard to their tenants. For example, what does it mean if a tenant stays on past the expiration of the lease period but continues paying rent month to month? What does it mean if that tenant eventually stops paying rent but still does not vacate the property? Each of these two scenarios is legally different and may call for different legal responses. To ensure that your interests are fully protected, make sure you have a knowledgeable South Florida landlord-tenant attorney representing your business.

Recently, a court outside Florida was presented with an interesting legal question. In the case, a commercial tenant (a medical clinic) had leased a space from a landlord. The term of the most recent written lease had expired in 2003. After that expiration, the tenant remained, paying rent month-to-month. In July of 2011, the tenant stopped paying rent. In December, the landlord sent a notice telling the tenant to pay up or get out. The tenant did not respond.

The landlord next filed an unlawful detainer action. Between the filing of the unlawful detainer action and the order of eviction, plumbing problems caused raw sewage to flow from the sinks in the space, permanently damaging the medical equipment, supplies, and patient records of the tenant. The tenant sued the landlord for negligence (among other causes of action). The case went to the Court of Appeal, which determined that the landlord was not liable to the tenant for damages.

Those events took place in the Los Angeles area, and the case was litigated in state court in California. While the dispute was decided based upon California law, it nevertheless raises some important issues for commercial landlords in Florida. What this California landlord and tenant were doing from 2003 to July 2011 is what’s called a “tenancy at will.” Starting with the date that the landlord filed the wrongful detainer action, the tenancy was a “tenancy at sufferance.” A tenancy at will occurs when, after a landlord and tenant’s written lease period expires, the tenant remains on the property, paying rent from month-to-month. Simply because a tenant pays rent and the landlord accepts that payment after the expiration of the lease does not create a new lease period; the lease is merely month-to-month.

A tenancy at sufferance occurs when a tenant occupies the space without the landlord’s permission. What does a tenancy at sufferance mean for a Florida landlord? For one thing, it means that the landlord may be entitled to demand double rent for the period of time the tenant remained in the space after the expiration of the lease term in certain circumstances. It also means that the landlord, for as long as the tenancy is a tenancy at sufferance, retains the legal right to file an action for the use and occupation of the property.

In other words, a landlord has considerably greater rights if the tenant is occupying the space under a tenancy at sufferance as opposed to other tenancies. The extent of your rights as a commercial landlord will depend on the specific facts of your business relationship with that tenant. For advice and advocacy upon which you can rely regarding your commercial rental properties, talk to the skilled South Florida landlord-tenant attorneys at Stok Folk + Kon. Our experienced team has been skillfully helping clients achieve the results they need for many years and is ready to assist you.

Contact us online or by calling (305) 935-4440 to schedule your consultation and find out how this firm can help you.

More blog posts:

Supermarket Chain Wins Appeal in its Federal Lawsuit Seeking to Enforce Exclusivity Restrictions in its Leases, Florida Business Lawyers Blog, May 17, 2018

Evidence in Commercial Lease Dispute Proved Tenant Was a Holdover and Had Not Renewed Lease, Florida Court Rules, Florida Business Lawyers Blog, July 28, 2017