EVICTIONS AND FLORIDA EVIDENCE LAW
Most property managers have a solid handle as to what their attorney will require before filing an eviction for nonpayment of rent. In that situation, property managers expect to fax over a Three Day Notice for Nonpayment of rent, the lease and sometimes the payment ledger. Assuming the Three Day Notice, the lease and the payment ledger present no issues; your attorney will file the case. After a while this routine becomes like clockwork for the property manager. Like all good things, this walk in paradise will come to an end, once the property manager attempts to file an eviction based upon a noncompliance of the lease terms by the resident other then for nonpayment of the rent. In this situation, a good attorney looking to protect the property manager will refuse to file an eviction based upon a Seven Day Notice of Termination of Lease unless all of the statutory requirements have been satisfied, and the attorney is certain that there is enough proof to win in court.
Let Your Attorney Protect You
You may be wondering about who or what your attorney is protecting you from when your lawyer declines to file an eviction based upon a weak Seven Day Notice case. First and foremost, your attorney with be protecting you from yourself! That is right. A property manager can be his or her own worst enemy by impulsively filing an eviction in the heat of the moment. In those moments, the property manager is so focused on removing the bad resident that a shutdown occurs when the attorney advises that the case will likely not hold up in court. The seasoned attorney will stand up to the manager and respectfully warn that the manager could be on the hook for substantial legal fees if the resident contests the case and hires an attorney. Worse yet, you could be wasting valuable time, because the bad resident will still be residing in the unit, creating the same problems and making life very stressful. The solution? Let your attorney do his or her job in these kinds of eviction cases. Your attorney must be given proof of the noncompliance by the resident so that the judge in your eviction matter will rule in your favor. Florida law has some very clear guidelines as to what type of proof can be submitted to the judge during the eviction trial. In a nutshell, your proof is the means by which your lawyer can capture the attention of the judge to rule in your favor. The tricky part is turning your proof into evidence that is reviewed by the judge. If your proof is not considered evidence, then it is of absolutely no value to you. The purpose of this article is to provide property managers with a basic understanding of Florida Evidence law, so that they can successfully litigate their eviction case if and when a court hearing becomes necessary.
The Florida Evidence Code
The Florida Evidence Code was adopted by the Florida Legislature in 1976 and became effective in 1979. The evidentiary provisions are found in Florida Statutes Chapter 90. Many of these provisions have procedural components and therefore have been adopted by the Florida Supreme Court as rules of procedure. The Code in Sections 90.201 through 90.207 authorizes a court to treat something as fact without the need for further proof at trial; this is called judicial notice. The court can take judicial notice of a matter at anytime during your hearing. Usually these are rules of the Florida Supreme Court, acts of the Florida Legislature or Florida Ordinances. The Court can also take judicial notice of facts that are easily ascertainable, such as the fact that July 4, 2010 was a Sunday. Property managers will rarely if ever be lucky enough to have their key evidence judicially noticed at trial. The property manager who is dealing with a resident hosting loud parties will not have the evidence regarding the noise judicially noticed; such a noncompliance will have to be proven by testimony of witnesses or some other form of evidence.
Todd and Lisa live in two separate second floor units at the Lakes of Transylvania apartment complex. Sam is their downstairs neighbor. Sam is often heard yelling while on his cell phone out in the common areas and playing loud music very late at night inside his apartment, along with excessive guest traffic in and out of his apartment. Todd and Lisa complained to the apartment manager, who correctly recommended that they call the police and obtain further proof in regard to Sam’s obnoxious conduct. Todd and Lisa also began playing private detective. Todd found an old tape recorder, and when Sam acted up again one night, Todd turned the machine on and recorded the loud music along with Sam yelling profanities. Meanwhile, Lisa snapped a bunch of pictures which showed at least 30 people near the front door of Sam’s apartment with some of those 30 people inside the unit.
Laying the Foundation
Fast forward to Sam’s eviction trial. In order for the tape recording and photographs to be admitted into evidence, your eviction attorney must lay a foundation through witnesses. All that fancy language means is that your eviction attorney will need to ask Todd and Lisa very specific questions prior to the judge allowing the evidence to be admitted. For example, Todd will be asked questions about how he physically recorded the tape and kept custody of the tape; he will be asked if he ever heard Sam’s voice in the past and how many times he has heard it. Then Todd will be asked if heard the recording which has been listed as an exhibit. The attorney would then ask Todd if he recognizes the voice, and finally Todd would be asked whose voice it actually was. Finally, the eviction attorney would request that the judge enter the tape recording into evidence. With regard to Lisa’s photographs, she would be asked if she was familiar with the photographs, how the photographs were developed, if and how she was familiar with the area contained in the photographs, and if the photographs accurately depict what Lisa saw on the date and time of the incident. One other key point to remember: if the resident that you are trying to evict attempts to offer impermissible evidence at trial, your eviction attorney needs to object at the hearing, or you will have waived your right to contest that evidence in any appeal. Suppose Todd or Lisa failed appear in court, like so many other resident witnesses who tell a property manager that they will attend court and testify against the resident that you are evicting. There would be hearsay implications if Todd or Lisa failed to attend the eviction hearing, which leads us to our next evidence issue.
WHAT IS HEARSAY?
The hearsay rule in Sections 90.801 through 90.806 of the Florida Statutes prohibit admission of oral or written out of court statements to prove the truth of the matter being asserted, but out of court statements may be admitted for a purpose other than proving the truth of the matter asserted if the statements are relevant to prove a material fact and are not outweighed by any prejudice. Some property managers assume that hearsay means that a person told you something and you are prevented from admitting that statement into evidence at a court hearing. That is not true if that witness is in court with you. The reason is simple. If the witness cannot testify at trial and submit to cross-examination by the opposing party, then the statement is inadmissible. Out of a principle of fairness, the law gives those being accused the right of cross-examination. In the above example, had Todd or Lisa failed to appear in court, the photographs or tape recording would have been inadmissible, since Sam would not have been able to cross-examine Todd or Lisa. This same principle applies to the property manager who takes pictures of a unit after the resident vacates for purpose of proving damages made to the property by the former resident. Take the pictures yourself if feasible, because a third party may not be associated with you three years later. You might not be able to locate that witness, and if you do, he still may not show up in court, even if subpoenaed.
Perhaps the biggest myth regarding hearsay is that you can use a police report in court as proof without the police officer who signed the report being present. Make no mistake about this: police reports are not an exception to the “hearsay” rule in Florida. The same holds true for repair bills. A representative from the company that undertook the repair must appear in court to testify. The same holds true for written statements from residents. The property manager must understand that obtaining signed; notarized letters from your residents loaded with complaints against another resident will not make their way into evidence. Load those complaining residents into your van and take them to court, because they will be required to testify, or you can kiss your eviction goodbye…unless you were savvy enough to obtain a police report and subpoena the officer! Florida law permits some exceptions to the “hearsay” rule, which include statements for the purpose of medical diagnosis and treatment, statement of a child abuse victim 11 years of age or less, and business records made at or near the time of the event, by a person with knowledge, kept in the course of normal business activity, provided that it was a regular practice of the business to make such a record.
- The Curable Noncompliance Examined PART 1
- THE CURABLE NONCOMPLIANCE EXAMINED PART 2
- THE WRIT OF POSSESSION – WHAT IT IS
- THE WRIT OF POSSESSION AND THE FULL UNIT
- WORK ORDER COMPANY POLICY AND THE LAW