Law Offices of Heist, Weisse, and Wolk, P.A.
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Two residents are on the lease agreement. One of the residents stops by your office and throws a set of keys on your desk proclaiming, “We are outta here”, and rushes out of your office. You decide to check the unit out, and it appears vacant. The electric is off, the unit is relatively clean, and the only personal property that you see is a box of books, an old television, bag of clothes and computer monitor. Looks surrendered for sure. Within a few days you have your maintenance staff do a full cleaning of the unit, including touch up painting and a trashing out of the remaining property. The locks are changed, as this is your usual procedure. A week later, one of your residents appears in your office claiming that she could not get into the unit. You inform the resident that her roommate turned in keys the prior week, and that the unit has been cleaned out and locks changed. Surprised and shocked, the resident in your office demands to know where all her personal possessions are, including a computer, CD collection, valuable antiques, expensive mountain bike and designer clothes. You state that there were no such items in the unit, and the resident storms out. You then get a letter from a lawyer, or possibly the police pay a visit to your office. Did you do something improper?

What is Surrender?

The term surrender is not specifically defined under the Florida Landlord/Tenant Act. Many managers assume that act or turning in keys constitutes a surrender, and in many cases, a judge would be satisfied that surrender occurs with the turning in of keys. However, it should be clear to the property manager that all residents on the lease have indicated in unequivocal terms that they have vacated the premises and are turning possession over to the manager. A writing signed by all residents is preferable, and no human beings should still be living in, using or sleeping in the unit. The property manager has to review very carefully the circumstances of keys being turned in; unless the keys are clearly being turned in as a consensual act by all residents on the lease, it can be very dangerous to presume surrender has occurred. Even if there is only one resident on the lease, if keys show up in the property manager’s drop box with no note, it may not have been the resident dropping the keys off.

The Property is “Surrendered” But Not Vacant

Your residents, all of them on the lease, may have given you the keys and indicated to you that they have surrendered the premises. You go out to the premises, and someone appears to be living there. You see clear and convincing evidence that the premises are being occupied by someone other than the residents who were just in your office yesterday. The premises are not surrendered, and if you think the occupant in the unit is a trespasser, think again. If that person claims he is there with the permission of your residents who just gave you the keys, you will be forced to file an eviction against your residents, as they have not completely surrendered the premises. The fact that the residents came to your office, turned in keys and said they were out is not sufficient.

One Resident Surrenders

One resident on a two resident lease comes into your office and hands you the keys announcing “they” have vacated. This is a common occurrence. You will then check the premises, and if it appears there is little to no personal property on the premises, the usual assumption is that all the residents have vacated. The problem is that only the resident who has given you the keys has in fact vacated, but the other resident has no idea this has occurred, as she may have been staying at her boyfriend’s house. This resident then appears in your office after locks have been changed and wants to know why she has been locked out. You reply that possession was turned over by the other resident the week before. Unbeknownst to you, the resident who surrendered the keys to you sold all the other resident’s personal belongings and threw the rest in the trash. They were not getting along. Now the other resident is attempting to hold you responsible for all the missing items. What happened? Only one resident gave up the right of possession, and that was not complete surrender.

Written Notification Of Surrender

There will be times when you do not receive the keys but receive a letter from the resident or residents stating that they have indeed vacated the premises. This would seem to constitute surrender, but again, the unit must be examined to see if this is truly the case.

Some Final Words

As you can see, receiving keys or a letter from the resident or residents may indicate that the residents have vacated the premises, but if anyone is left behind, you do not have a surrender; if you do not have clear confirmation from all residents on the lease that the right of possession has been given up, it can be dangerous to presume a surrender. Never assume you have complete surrender and right to possession of the premises until you examine the premises and consider all the underlying details of the case; if you have any doubts, consult your attorney.



  • The Curable Noncompliance Examined PART 1