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Florida residents illegally evicted after hurricane

Rental landlords should know that there's a right way and a wrong way to evict a tenant. The wrong way is posting a 72-hour notice on someone's door after a hurricane, having their electrical power cut off and telling them that you want them out so that repairs can be made after a hurricane blew through the area.

That's the experience numerous tenants in apartments held by WNY Holdings LLC in Panama City, Florida, had. The tenants all share similar stories. In many cases, they weren't even contacted directly -- simply told that they needed to have any belongings they cared to keep out of the property within 72 hours. Many of them found windows removed and doors opened to their residents without permission and almost all of them found their electricity turned off in clear violation of the law. Most also claim that there wasn't enough damage from the hurricane to necessitate a move.

While attorneys in the area say that they heard similar stories about other landlords, the majority of people approaching them were residents in buildings owned by the same company. WNY Holdings, for its part, claims that it never meant to evict anyhow. They have since offered tenants "in good standing" a free month of rent to move back, although there are few takers. Altogether, the company has over 600 rental units.

It's possible that the tenants will seek class action status against their former landlord over the evictions.

If you own commercial units, it's important that you understand the rules you have to follow for an eviction. Even if a place is in disrepair, you can't simply order a tenant to leave. Cutting the utilities to an apartment is also a way of forcing an eviction illegally -- and it could come back to haunt you. If you're unsure of how to handle a situation with your tenants, talk to a real estate attorney instead of trying to figure the next steps out on your own.

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