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Florida Landlord-Tenant Law: What is Unjust Enrichment?

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As defined by the Cornell Legal Information Institute, unjust enrichment occurs when one party gains a benefit from another party that is deemed unfair under the law. In Florida, unjust enrichment is common law cause of action.

You may also hear unjust enrichment referred to as the “something for nothing” doctrine. The doctrine could be an issue in a landlord-tenant dispute. Here, our Miami landlord rights attorneys explain how exactly an unjust enrichment claim works using an example from Florida history. 

An Example of Unjust Enrichment: Fowler v. Resash Corp 

A Commercial Lease Agreement Was Signed  

The 1980s Florida court case of Fowler v. Resash Corp provides an illustrative example of how unjust enrichment works in a landlord-tenant dispute. In this case, the Fowlers were the lessors of a Miami Beach hotel property. Resash Corp, a South Florida company, was the tenant.

According to court records, the two parties entered into a 99-year lease agreement, allowing the commercial tenant to operate a hotel in the Miami Beach location. The agreement was entered into decades prior to the court decision—meaning it still had more than 50 years to go.

The Dispute: Unauthorized Improvements to the Premises  

A dispute arose over the undisputed fact that the tenant made unauthorized improvements to the landlord’s commercial property. Based on the nature of the improvements, the landlord moved to terminate the lease and remove the tenant from the property. They did so on the basis that the commercial tenant violated the terms of the lease.

However, soon after the tenant was removed, the landlords then re-leased the property at a substantially higher rate of rent. They were able to obtain a higher rate of rent for two reasons. First, the market rate in Miami Beach had changed and the property was worth more than the 99-year lease anticipated. Additionally, the unauthorized improvements to the commercial property provided real value.

The Decision: Tenant Compensation for Unjust Enrichment  

As was stated, the tenant’s conduct—the unauthorized improvements—was a technical violation of the lease. That being said, a Florida court determined that the landlord not only did not suffer any damages because of the improvements, but that the landlord also gained a tangible financial benefit from them; specifically, the ability to leave the agreement early and get even more money for the property.

The court ruled that the landlords were unjustly enriched. The case serves as a quintessential example of a party getting “something for nothing.” Under Florida law, state courts can use equitable remedies in order to resolve these types of disputes. A landlord that is in a position to get “something for nothing” may end up facing an unjust enrichment claim. It is important to anticipate this before taking any action.

Contact Our Miami Commercial Landlord Attorneys for Help

At Pike & Lustig, LLP, our Miami landlord tenant dispute lawyers provide high quality, effective representation to clients. If you have questions about unjust enrichment, we are here to help. Call us now for a completely confidential case evaluation. From our office locations in West Palm Beach, Miami, and Palm Beach Gardens, we represent commercial landlords throughout the region.

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