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Fact that tenant was no longer in possession of premises did not render tenant’s appeal of eviction moot.  Trial court erred failing to construe Tenant’s answer and motion as a motion to determine rent and in granting judgment of possession and costs without conducting a rent determination hearing.

Tenant notified the landlord of a rodent infestation.  When the landlord failed to act, tenant spent $50.00  on rodent treatment and deducted the amount from his February rent, paying $450.00  out of the $500 rent due.  The landlord accepted the payment and notified the tenant he was short $50.00.    Then on February 5th, the landlord filed an eviction for holdover alleging he had served the tenant a notice of non-renewal on January 13, effective January 31, despite having accepted a February rent payment.

On February 11,  the tenant filed an “Answer/Request Hearing”  requesting  that the court deny the eviction and argued that “the management company should not be able to hold my security deposit funds, and rent funds in contempt with the court system.” The Tenant  deposited $500 for his March rent in the court registry. On March 19,  the trial court entered an Order Striking Answer and Entry of Default, and judgment for possession and $225 costs, which was “[b]ased upon Defendant’s failure to pay necessary monies into the Court Registry or to file an appropriate motion to determine the amount of rent to be paid into the Court Registry . . . .” The tenant appealed.

The landlord argued the appeal should be dismissed as moot because the tenant had, by then, been evicted. The appellate court ruled that ‘[m]ootness does not destroy an appellate court’s jurisdiction . . . if ‘collateral legal consequences that affect the rights of a party flow from the issue to be determined.’ ” Id. (quoting Godwin, 193 So. 2d at 212) (alteration added). A recent opinion from another Eleventh Judicial Circuit appellate panel determined that “ceasing to reside in [an] apartment does not moot an appeal from an eviction judgment,” since an eviction judgment “may cause collateral consequences such as a negative credit history.” Daniels v. Miami Beverly, Case No. 14-283 AP (Fla. 11th Cir. Ct. Aug. 25, 2017) [25 Fla. L. Weekly Supp. 587c].   In Schweickert, the Fifth DCA found that a case was not rendered moot when a request for attorney’s fees remained pending. Schweickert, 193 So. 3d at 1079. Likewise, the instant case is not moot while the Appellant remains liable for the $225 cost award.

The appellate court noted that §83.60 Florida Statutes “Defenses to action for rent or possession”  provides the tenant has three options to avoid a default: “[a] tenant may: (1) assert payment as a defense; (2) deposit the accrued rent as alleged in the Complaint; or (3) file a motion to determine the amount of rent.” Green v. Liberty City Cmty. Economic Dev. Corp., 21 Fla. L. Weekly Supp. 122a (Fla. 11th Cir. Ct. Nov. 21, 2013).

In the instant case,  the tenant timely filed a pro se “Answer/Request Hearing” asserting that he paid $450 out of $500 for his February rent and that he deducted $50 to cover the rodent control costs. Although the document was not a formal motion to determine the amount of rent, a portion of its title is labeled “Request Hearing,” it states in part that “This letter is to request trial,” it states that “I look forward to the fair trial and hearings to determine this situation,” it argues that the Appellant “should not be financially obligated for this eviction.”

The appellate court noted that it would review requests by tenants liberally as motions to determine rent, including requests included in an answer instead of being filed as a separate pleading. See Daniels v Miami Beverly, Case No. 14-283 AP (Fla. 11th Cir. Ct. Aug. 25, 2017) [25 Fla. L. Weekly Supp. 587c]; Harvey v. Campton Assoc., 22 Fla. L. Weekly Supp. 48a (Fla. 11th Cir. Ct. Apr. 15, 2013). In the instant case, like in the Daniels case, the tenant  placed his request in writing, stated the reasons why he challenged the rent amount, and indicated that he wanted a hearing. In Daniels, the court found that such a request was sufficient for an unrepresented tenant to satisfy the condition that the tenant may file a motion to determine rent in order to avoid a default. Likewise, the tenant in the instant case, who was unrepresented at the time that he filed his “Answer/Request Hearing,” adequately moved to determine rent, so that default should not have been entered against him.   Thus the appellate court reversed the trial courts order striking tenant’s answer granting the eviction and judgment for costs, and further awarded tenant costs and fees for the appeal.  The case was remanded to the trial court to conduct a rent determination hearing.

MICHAEL AARON CALLAHAN, Appellant, v. DAVID OM, LLC, Appellee. Circuit Court, 11th Judicial Circuit (Appellate) in and for Miami-Dade County. Case No. 16-127 AP. L.T. Case No. 16-2360 CC 05. December 11, 2017. On Appeal from the County Court in and for Miami-Dade County, Florida, Online Reference: FLWSUPP 2511CALL

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