As a commercial landlord, there are several steps to be taken when a tenant defaults on its lease. One of these steps is understanding exactly what must be included in your complaint when you sue for eviction or breach of the lease. This includes explaining exactly what amount of damages you’ve suffered and how you arrived at that number. In a recent case from Southwest Florida, the 2d District Court of Appeal ruled that it must go back to court and provide additional proof regarding its damages, since its complaint contained only a grand total of damages and no explanation to support that amount.
Robert Maggiano, a family practice doctor, signed a five-year commercial lease on behalf of his medical practice, Robert Maggiano, D.O., P.A., for space at a Fort Myers property in April 2009. By January 2014, the landlord, Whisky Creek Professional Center, LLC, sued the medical practice, the doctor, and the doctor’s wife for eviction, claiming that the tenant was more than $22,700 behind on its rent. Neither the practice, the doctor, nor the doctor’s wife responded to the complaint on time, and the landlord successfully obtained default judgments against each of them.
The default judgment set the amount owed at $22,788. The tenant first attempted to challenge the default judgment but was unsuccessful. Having failed in that effort, the tenant then appealed the judgment, arguing that the trial court was wrong to rely solely on the amount provided by the landlord in setting the amount of damages.
The appeals court agreed. The problem with the trial court’s judgment was that it should have taken more testimony on damages because the damages amount was not liquidated. In cases involving liquidated damages, a trial court can set the amount of damages without hearing more evidence. However, even in default judgment cases, a hearing is required when the damages are unliquidated.
The reason the appeals court concluded that the damages in Whiskey Creek’s case were unliquidated related back to the original complaint the landlord filed. In that document, the landlord did not state when the Maggiano practice stopped paying rent, and it did not indicate how much the tenant paid during the months that a partial payment was tendered. It did not state whether or not the unpaid amounts included some or all of the tenant’s security deposit. The landlord’s complaint only stated what the full monthly rent obligation was and that the tenant owed a total of $22,788.
In this regard, Whiskey Creek’s case was similar to a 1994 case, Charlotte Harbor Properties Associates, Ltd. v. Huff. In the Charlotte Harbor case, the landlord also failed to explain how it determined the total amount of damages it alleged in its complaint, and the court also ruled that its damages were not liquidated. Both Whiskey Creek’s complaint and Charlotte Harbor’s complaint were “not based upon an arithmetically certain calculation or the application of definite rules of law.” If deciding the true total amount of damages requires the court to receive additional testimony, the damages are not liquidated.
Pursuing a defaulting tenant in an eviction action or a breach of lease case involves a number of essential steps in order to achieve success and do so in the most efficient manner possible. For questions about your commercial lease, talk to the experienced Florida real estate attorneys at Stok Kon + Braverman. Our hardworking attorneys can provide clear, useful advice and the finest in determined advocacy to represent your business interests.
Contact us online or by calling (954) 237-1777 to schedule your consultation.
More blog posts:
Florida Court Blocks Subtenant’s Request for Information About Tenant’s Commercial Lease Terms With Landlord, Florida Business Lawyers Blog, April 7, 2015
Commercial Landlord Unable to Enjoin Tenant from Publishing Disparaging Blog Posts, Florida Business Lawyers Blog, Dec. 15, 2014