Information for Homeowners or Tenants in Foreclosure

This page provides information and links for people who do not have an attorney for their foreclosure case. 


Florida law requires self-represented parties to comply with all applicable laws and procedures and you will be held to the same standards as a member of The Florida Bar. The judge has to be neutral and cannot protect you if you make mistakes that cause you to lose your case, nor can the judge give you guidance regarding how to defend the case. For this reason, hiring a lawyer is strongly recommended.

Frequently Asked Questions

The Clerk of Court assigns foreclosure actions for more than $15,000 to the Circuit Civil Divisions A and C (Sarasota) and B and D (Manatee). Actions for less than $15,000 are assigned to County Court.

Judges are not allowed to talk directly with litigants, witnesses, friends, or family members of litigants about a pending case or a disputed matter that might lead to litigation. Ethical rules require judges to have both sides of a dispute present, with their lawyers, before he or she is permitted to discuss a matter in litigation or a matter which might be litigated.

Judicial Assistants are not lawyers and cannot give legal advice. By law they cannot recommend lawyers or advise a person on how to handle a case. They do not have the authority to approve requests to continue a matter or to excuse a court appearance, only a judge can do that. The claim that the “Judicial Assistant told me to do it” is not an acceptable defense.

If you are a tenant and your landlord is facing foreclosure, you will be served papers naming you as a defendant in the landlord’s case. You should pay close attention to the progress of that case. In Manatee and Sarasota Counties you can access the clerks’ case docket on line to check the status.  www.manateeclerk.com and  www.sarasotaclerk.com. If the landlord loses, your lease will be cancelled and you will be forced to leave the property. However, you have important rights. Visit  Gulfcoast Legal Services website for information on the Tenant’s Bill of Rights.

You have the right to represent yourself. However, foreclosure law is complex. It is strongly recommended that you not attempt to do this without an attorney. You may have defenses to foreclosure that are unrecognizable by untrained persons. Being uninformed about civil procedure and the law may cause you to lose a case that you could otherwise win. Before deciding to be your own lawyer, it would be wise to consult with a member of The Florida Bar. Attorneys don’t have to be hired to defend the entire case. Some may agree to be hired for a limited purpose. This can greatly reduce the cost and allow an unrepresented party to have an attorney’s help at critical stages of the case. For example, a defendant may need the attorney just to file and argue a motion to dismiss, or a summary judgment, or to help them prepare for trial.

If you have no lawyer, you may find this website helpful:  http://www.selfhelpsupport.org

  1. Contact legal aid services to see if you qualify for free legal advice:
    • Legal Aid of Manasota  
      Sarasota Office - 1900 Main Street, Suite 302, Sarasota, Florida 34236 - (941) 366-0038
      Venice Office - 7810 South Tamiami Trail, Suite A6, Venice, Florida 34293 - (941) 492-4631
    • Gulfcoast Legal Services
      ​1750 17th Street, Bldg. 1, Sarasota, Florida 34236 - (941) 366-1746
  2. If you do not qualify for legal aid, many local lawyers have offered to assist homeowners at a reduced rate or on a sliding scale depending on income and assets. Vist the 12th Circuit’s Reduced Fee Attorney List.
  3. Visit the Florida Bar Attorney Consumer Assistance Program (ACAP) for more information. The Florida Bar Lawyer Referral Service can be reached at 1-800-342-8011 or 1-800-342-8060 extension 5844. You can also apply online at  http://www.flabar.org/divpgm/lronline.nsf/wreferral6?openform
  4. Many local attorneys advertise online and in the Yellow Pages. Be sure to ask about their experience in representing people in your situation. The local bar associations also have useful resources:  sarasotabar.com;  www.manateebar.com

The most common mistake made by persons who do not hire an attorney is the failure to pay attention to deadlines. The rules of civil procedure govern foreclosure cases and they set deadlines for a defending party to take action. For example, when the case is first filed, the person filing the case (plaintiff) is required to serve papers (a complaint), on all persons with a legal interest in the property (defendants).

Defendants have 20 days to file their legal defenses to the claims made in the complaint. These defenses are required to be stated in a document called an “answer,” and filed with the clerk of court, with copies sent to the plaintiff. What is a legitimate defense is controlled by legal principles, most of which are unknown to non-lawyers. If the deadline is missed, the plaintiff is entitled to win by default - meaning there is nothing to stop the foreclosure from going forward to final judgment. Because the defendant has chosen not to contest the case, the rules of procedure say that any defenses are automatically abandoned. The law requires the defending party to point out problems with the plaintiff’s case. It is not the judge’s job to do this. If the plaintiff’s case is flawed, but not defended, the flawed case will go to final judgment and the defendant will be bound by and have to live with this result. This is true even if there were legitimate defenses, which, if raised in an answer at the beginning of the case, would have allowed the defendant to win.

There are other deadlines that may have to be met too. When a case is defended, and either the rules of procedure or a judge’s order sets a deadline, missing the date can have serious consequences for a noncompliant defendant. Self-represented persons must become familiar with the procedural rules and pay careful attention to orders signed by the judge, or they act at their peril.

When deadlines are missed, sometimes it is possible for the defendant to ask the judge to excuse the oversight. But this is risky and depends on why the deadline was missed, and the judge may not accept the excuse. The sooner the request is made after a date is missed, the more likely it is that the judge may allow the error to be corrected. In any event, for the deadline to be excused, a valid legal reason for missing the deadline is required.

Notice of Hearing

Motion

Supporting document copies (a copy of your Motion or other filed pleadings that will be addressed at the hearing)

Legal Authority (e.g. case law supporting your position)

  1. You should first file a MOTION. A motion is a written request for the judge to take action in regard to your case. You must describe what it is you want the judge to do, and why.
  2. Make sure the motion contains the names of all parties, the case number, and that the certificate of service is completed showing when and how you provided the motion to all other parties. Like other papers filed in the case, the original motion is sent to the clerk of court. The Sarasota County’s Clerk of Court’s mailing address is 2000 Main Street, Sarasota, Florida, 34237. Manatee County’s Clerk of Court mailing address is 1115 Manatee Ave. W., Bradenton, FL 34205. Copies are mailed or faxed to the other parties.
  3. Contact the plaintiff’s attorney to coordinate a hearing date. You should have your calendar available when you contact the plaintiff’s attorney. Attorneys have access to the judges calendaring system and can schedule a mutually convenient date. 
  4. If attempts to coordinate a hearing with the plaintiff’s attorney fail, you may then contact the Judicial Assistant to request a hearing date. You should get at least two dates since these have to be coordinated with the opposing side. The assistant will tell you how much time the judge has available for that type of motion.
  5. Contact the other side to see if the dates provided are acceptable. If you do not do this, the judge may cancel the hearing because local rules require it. If, after you make a good faith effort, the opposition does not cooperate, send a letter to the judge, copy to the other parties, stating what you’ve done to get the hearing date coordinated. The judge may then set the hearing at a time convenient to the court.
  6. After you have the hearing date, you must prepare and send a NOTICE OF HEARING. Always provide a copy of court papers you file to the other side, even though everyone has agreed to the hearing date. The original notice of hearing is sent to the clerk of court. Copies are sent to the other parties.
  7. Before you appear at the hearing, you should rehearse your presentation and be concise. Remember, you only have half the time. The other side has to be given equal time.
  8. At the hearing, direct your remarks to the judge, not to the opposing attorney. For more information for self-represented parties, review the Ten Rules for Courtroom Conduct HERE.

Litigants requesting an emergency hearing are required first to call the judge’s office to alert the Judicial Assistant that an emergency motion is being filed and to request the FAX number. Then the moving party is required to FAX a copy of the motion or pleading to the judge. The request will not be considered until a written motion or pleading is received. The Judicial Assistant will present the documents to the judge at the first available opportunity. The judge will review the papers and will either grant, deny or schedule a hearing on an emergency calendar. IF A HEARING IS GRANTED AND A DATE SET, THE MOVANT IS REQUIRED TO GIVE NOTICE TO THE OPPOSING SIDE IN THE MANNER MOST LIKELY TO GIVE ACTUAL NOTICE, UNLESS NOTICE IS EXCUSED BY LAW. Failure to give timely notice to the other side may be grounds for denial of relief. Emergency hearings may be set before or after normal business hours, or during the time normally reserved for noon recess. ALWAYS INCLUDE THE CASE NUMBER ON WRITTEN COMMUNICATIONS TO A JUDGE WITH A RETURN ADDRESS & PHONE NUMBER. Case numbers are available from the clerk of court.

If you have an attorney, he or she must file a motion asking the judge for a continuance. Persons without an attorney may file their own motion, or write the judge a letter in advance requesting a continuance and giving the reasons. Requests may be faxed only when short notice, urgent or emergency situations exist. The original pleading must be filed with the clerk of circuit court. A copy of the request must be sent in writing to the opposing party. Failure to show a certificate of service for copies sent to the opposing party is grounds for denying the request on its face. There must be good cause, such as a verifiable emergency, for a continuance to be granted. Some judges may rule on a motion for continuance based solely on what the judge sees in the motion. Other judges may require the moving party to schedule, through the judge’s office, a hearing on the continuance request. If a hearing is granted, you should appear in person at the hearing when scheduled. If the motion to continue is denied and you fail to appear, there may be serious legal consequences. What you think is a good excuse may not be a legal one in the judge's opinion. ALWAYS INCLUDE THE CASE NUMBER ON WRITTEN COMMUNICATIONS TO A JUDGE WITH A RETURN ADDRESS & PHONE NUMBER. Case numbers are available from the clerk of court.

Litigants in CIVIL cases who want their proceedings recorded are responsible for hiring their own court reporters to attend hearings or trials. Private court reporters are listed in the yellow pages of the phone book. Most require non-lawyers to pay all or part of the anticipated expenses up front. It may be difficult to appeal an adverse ruling in a civil case unless you hire a private court reporter to attend the hearing or trial to prepare a certified transcript. The court is under no obligation to provide court reporters in civil cases even where the litigants are indigent

Sarasota residential mortgage foreclosure sales are held online at https://www.sarasota.realforeclose.com at 9:00 a.m.

Manatee residential mortgage foreclosure sales are held online at https://www.manatee.realforeclose.com at 9:00 a.m.

Visit the Clerk of Circuit Court Website of your county of interest. Manatee Clerk –  www.manateeclerk.com. Sarasota Clerk –  www.sarasotaclerk.com.

No. On February 9, 2009 the 12th Circuit adopted Administrative Order 2009-2.1 in re: Emergency Order Suspending Telephone Hearings in Foreclosure Cases in Sarasota and Manatee Counties.

Generally, there are three ways a case ends:

  1. It can be dismissed by the judge or by the party who filed the claim.
  2. The case can be resolved by a trial. At the trial the judge will decide who wins or loses. Foreclosure cases are tried by a judge without a jury. A trial requires the parties to call and question live witnesses and to present documents that support their claims or defenses.
  3. A case can end by a “summary judgment.” Summary here means “quick.” This is the way many foreclosure cases are resolved because it avoids the expense of a non-jury trial. Either side may file motions for summary judgment but most commonly it is the method plaintiffs use to try to bring the foreclosure case to a speedy conclusion. It is not like a trial because the judge makes the decision only after reviewing papers filed by the parties prior to the hearing. The papers that are filed must comply with strict legal rules. On occasion, the court may take live testimony at a summary judgment hearing.

    The party moving for summary judgment is required to file affidavits or other evidence that support the motion, and the defending parties, if they need to do so, may file affidavits or other evidence opposing the motion. Defending parties should not expect to appear at the plaintiff’s summary judgment hearing to explain their defenses without having filed proper evidence or affidavits supporting their position a reasonable time before the hearing. Only papers filed prior to the hearing and meeting legal standards can be considered by the judge.

    Summary judgment can only be granted when there are no disputed issues of material fact, and the sole issues remaining are legal ones. The law of summary judgment is complicated. Because it can result in an adverse judgment, self-represented parties would benefit by consulting with an attorney as soon as they receive a motion for summary judgment. The rules of civil procedure set forth the requirements for parties filing or opposing summary judgment. Visit  Florida Bar Rules of Civil Procedure to access the civil rules.

Complaint Filed

The complaint alleges one or more defaults occurred under the terms of the mortgage and promissory note. The goal of the complaint is to obtain a Final Judgment that will allow the court to legally transfer title to the property from the current owner to a new owner.

Defendants Served

This is typically done through a private process server but may be accomplished through the sheriff. If the borrowers cannot be located after a diligent search, and attempts to serve them personally have failed, the plaintiff is allowed to serve them by publication of a notice in a local newspaper.

Defendant files an Answer (or asks judge by a motion for a brief extension of time to answer) and/or files a Motion to Dismiss stating reasons why the plaintiff’s complaint is defective. [NOTE: Effective August 1, 2012 if the property is residential, the owner may be entitled to mediate the case. Visit the Residential Mortgage Mediation Program page for more information.]

If a Motion to Dismiss is filed, a hearing may be scheduled by either party at which time the judge or magistrate will rule on the motion. The judge or magistrate will enter a written order confirming his or her ruling. You may request hearings for your own motions. Judges may decide some motions without a hearing.

If the Motion to Dismiss is denied and an Answer has not yet been filed, the judge will order the Answer to be filed within a certain number of days, typically 10 or 20 days. If the defendant fails to file the Answer within the time set by the judge, defenses could be stricken and a default entered against the defendant. This could clear the way for the plaintiff to get a final judgment due to the defendant’s failure to comply with a court order. If the Motion to Dismiss is granted, plaintiff may be allowed to file an amended complaint, which can then be challenged by another Motion to Dismiss.

20 days after the Complaint is served on all defendants (if no answer is filed), or 20 days after the Answer has been filed, the case is ready to be set for trial. Either party may request a trial date or the Court may set one on its own.

Discovery Conducted

Parties have a reasonable time before trial to request disclosure of information and documents from their opponent. However, this has to be done in accordance with the rules of civil procedure. Examples of discovery devices commonly used are: Requests for Admissions (written questions the answers to which will bind the responding party), Interrogatories (written questions to be answered under oath), and depositions (witness testimony taken under oath before a court reporter which is recorded in a booklet called a transcript.) The rules of civil procedure set deadlines for parties to comply with discovery requests. Failure to timely comply can result in sanctions against the offending party, including attorney fees and cost. In extreme cases of non-compliance the judge may strike a defendant’s answer and defenses, enter defaults against the defendant and, the case of a plaintiff, dismiss the complaint.

Plaintiffs usually attempt to resolve the case by means of a motion for summary judgment. If the summary judgment is granted, the court will enter a Final Judgment. The circuit’s standard form of foreclosure judgment can be viewed here. The judgment will include the total amount owed and a date for the clerk to sell the property. If summary judgment is not granted, the plaintiff can try again to resolve the case by filing another summary judgment, or the case can be set for a trial without a summary judgment. See WHAT IS A SUMMARY JUDGMENT?

If ready for trial, a date will be scheduled by the judge. The judge may also order the parties to appear at pretrial conferences. If defendant fails to appear at a mandatory hearing or trial, the plaintiff may request a final judgment. For this reason, careful attention should be paid to reviewing orders containing hearing dates when received from the judge. If plaintiff fails to appear, the case may be dismissed. At trial plaintiff will be required to prove the case by witnesses and other evidence. Defendants also will have to prove their defenses at the same time.

If the plaintiff wins at trial or after a summary judgment hearing, the court will enter a Final Judgment. The Final Judgment will state the total amount owed and set the date for the property to be sold by the clerk.

After the clerk’s sale, defendant has 10 days to “redeem” the property. This means if the defendant can come up with the total money owed as stated in the final judgment within the 10 days, the sale can be reversed, the judgment vacated and the case dismissed. The money is paid to the clerk, not the plaintiff.

If no redemption occurs, the clerk will issue and record a new title transferring the property from the defendant owner to whoever was the successful bidder at the clerk’s sale.

Once the clerk issues the new title, the new owner is entitled to request a Writ of Possession, which is a paper directing the sheriff to remove all persons on the property and put the new owner in possession.

A sheriff’s deputy will give notice to occupants that the Writ of Possession requires them to leave, giving them a short time to remove their personal possessions. Thereafter, a deputy will visit the property. If the occupants have not vacated the premises, they will be ordered to leave immediately.

Do’s and Don’ts for Self-represented Parties

DO NOT
  1. DO NOT attempt to speak with the judge about your case. The judge is not allowed to discuss cases directly with litigants, witnesses, friends or family members without both sides being present in an open court. If you need to set a motion hearing before the judge, click here to be directed to our Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ) page.
  2. DO NOT ask the judge’s judicial assistant or case managers legal questions. They are not attorneys and would be violating the law if they did so.
  3. DO NOT file bogus motions or court papers such as an answer or affirmative defenses with allegations or legal positions you cannot substantiate. Doing so risks losing credibility with the judge and places you in jeopardy of sanctions and additional attorney fees.
  4. DO NOT disclose to the judge or others what is discussed in mediation. By statute, this is confidential.
DO
  1. DO pay attention to time limits. For example, you have 20 days after service of the complaint to file your response. If you miss this deadline, you may lose your case by default, meaning you give up any defenses you may have allowing the plaintiff to win the case. Court orders and rules of procedure may impose other time requirements. Failure to timely comply can have serious consequences for your case.
  2. DO contact legal aid to see if you can qualify for free legal services:
    • Legal Aid of Manasota www.legalaidofmanasota.org
      • Sarasota Office - 1900 Main Street, Suite 302, Sarasota, Florida 34236 - (941) 366-0038
      • Venice Office - 7810 South Tamiami Trail, Suite A6, Venice, Florida 34293 - (941) 492-4631
    • Gulfcoast Legal Services www.gulfcoastlegal.org
      • 1750 17th Street, Bldg. 1, Sarasota, Florida 34236 - (941) 366-1746
    • If they cannot help you, a list of attorneys who have agreed to accept foreclosure cases on a sliding scale depending on income and assets can be found here.
  3. DO explore this website to become familiar with the judges’ policies and requirements.
  4. DO copy the opposing side with any letter or papers sent to the judge or the clerk of court. This rule applies to both sides
  5. DO keep the clerk of court informed of your contact information, including email and mailing addresses, and phone numbers. This can be done by letter to the clerk. The Sarasota Clerk of Circuit Court’s mailing address is 2000 Main Street, Sarasota, FL 34237. U. S. mail is the official means of informing you of action taken in your case and is how important documents will be sent. If you change addresses, let the clerk know immediately.
  6. DO review the Rules for Courtroom Conduct prior to attending your court hearing.