Inform Article

Unlawful Detainer: Getting Rid of an Unwanted Guest

Posted by Noelle Smith of Legal Aid Society of Palm Beach County
Unlawful Detainer: Getting Rid of an Unwanted Guest picture

An old friend of yours recently lost his home and needs a place to stay. Feeling sympathetic, you generously invite him to stay with you at no cost. Everything goes smoothly for a couple months, but you eventually realize he is a problem guest. He has begun leaving the house a mess, running up your utility bills, arguing with you, and disturbing your neighbors. He has made no effort to find housing of his own. Finally, you demand that he leaves but he refuses. What now?

Although this scenario may sound unusual, it is more common than you think and does not only involve guests or friends. Seniors sometimes find themselves in these situations when they invite in an adult child who has fallen on hard times. 

The police are usually unable to intervene once a guest has been on your property for an extended period and established signs of residency--such as having all his possessions in the home or having his mail delivered to your address. The police will advise you to file a civil lawsuit, but you need to know which kind is the best fit.

If your guest has been staying completely free, then eviction is not the proper lawsuit. Evictions are to remove tenants, and a guest is not a tenant as long as they have not paid rent or any other regular amounts for the right to stay in your home.

Assuming your guest has been staying for free, some people may advise you that an ejectment is the proper lawsuit. However, ejectment is ordinarily used to resolve disputes over title to property, and clearly, your guest has no claim of title. Not to mention, ejectments can take months to resolve. There is a better and quicker way to address your problem.

Florida Statutes Chapter 82 provides an action called an "unlawful detainer." A person is unlawfully detaining property if they were invited in by a legal possessor but refused to leave once the invitation was withdrawn. Although unlawful detainer is not the same as eviction, it is governed by the same special rules of procedure and moves through the courts just as quickly.

To win the unlawful detainer, you will have to prove the following:

  • that you had the legal right to occupy the property;
  • that you invited the guest in;
  • that you later asked the guest to leave; and
  • that the guest refused to do so.

It is important to remember that if a guest has regularly made payments to you--such as rent or sharing the electric bill--they may be able to legally establish a tenancy and defeat your unlawful detainer, forcing you to re-file your lawsuit as an eviction.

If you need to file an unlawful detainer, you can purchase a sample complaint from the Self-Service Center of any Palm Beach County Courthouse. If you need help filling out the complaint, you can schedule an appointment with a Self-Service Center attorney by calling (561) 355-7048.

IMPORTANT: The information on this Website is not intended as legal advice or representation. No attorney-client relationship is created between the Legal Aid Society of Palm Beach County, Inc. and any person obtaining information from this website. Public benefits and other laws change frequently. We strive to keep this website up to date but cannot provide a guarantee that this information is accurate as of the time you are reading it.