What are a tenant's rights in a property that's going through foreclosure in Florida?

Question

I live in Florida and am renting a home where I have a lease agreement that expires in six months. I was just notified that this property is going under Foreclosure now. How long will the foreclosure process take and will I be forced to vacate the property before my lease agreement ends? Do renters have any rights on this aspect?

Answer

Renters everywhere have rights when the property they're living in is about to be sold at foreclosure. Courtesy of the federal Protecting Tenants At Foreclosure Act, effective May 20, 2009, bona fide tenants get to keep their leases, unless the purchaser at the foreclosure sale intends to use the property as their primary residence. In that event, the lease can be terminated with 90 days' notice.

During Foreclosure

You should not be forced to move while the foreclosure process takes place, unless you fail to pay the rent or take any other actions that would normally justify terminating your tenancy. For example, using the property for an illegal purpose, or subletting without the landlord's consent, would normally expose you to a termination notice. The fact that the property is about to be sold at foreclosure does not change that.

Rights for Tenants in Florida

Besides the federal law described above, tenants in many states may have additional protections, such as the right to advance notice of the notice of foreclosure, advance notice of the sale, additional time to vacate after the foreclosure, and the right to have the buyer at the foreclosure sale maintain the property. Most importantly, some states have given tenants the right to deduct or withhold rent under certain circumstances, such as to cover needed repairs or to compensate for the likely loss of the security deposit.

Unfortunately, Florida has not enacted any such additional protections. Bills died in committee in 2010 and 2011 that would have, among other things, given tenants a right of first refusal to purchase the property at market value, and required landlords to escrow security deposit funds for the benefit of tenants.

Timeline

The foreclosure process in Florida takes up to four months. During that time, tenants must continue to pay rent unless there is a legal justification to stop, such as the failure of the owner to maintain a fit and habitable rental.

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