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Landlord/tenant DIY forms hit the e-filing portal, more on the way

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A guided do-it-yourself procedure for completing and filing forms needed in simplified landlord/tenant matters, aimed at helping both pro se litigants and pro bono lawyers who don’t normally practice in that area, is being added to the court system’s statewide e-filing portal.

The Supreme Court’s Commission on Access to Civil Justice received an update on the DIY forms — the first of many being prepared for the portal — and on the popular Florida Courts Help App from the Office of the State Courts Administrator at the commission’s recent Tallahassee meeting.

Commission member Tom Edwards, a Jacksonville attorney, said the “dynamic” DIY process asks users a series of questions and then uses those to fill out court approved forms. More than 100 forms are in the pipeline for eventual inclusion on the portal. The landlord/tenant system was expected to be available by the end of December, after this went to press.

“They’ll be able to go in and answer questions through a structured question tree . . . and they then will be able to produce pre-approved litigation forms such as a landlord complaint or a tenant response,” Edwards said.

Florida Court Clerks & Comptrollers and various Bar committees worked on the forms with OSCA, and the whole project was under the supervision of the Supreme Court Judicial Management Council. The DIY forms take advantage of Access to Justice software, or A2J for short, that clerks included in the initial programming when the portal was set up.

Edwards said the landlord/tenant forms as well as forms in the pipeline have been carefully reviewed to “protect due process rights, [ensure] fairness for both sides and are legally sufficient so we don’t create problems for litigants and judges. . . .”

“As of right now, we have 112 different areas of pleadings and support documents that have been completed through most of [the review] process,” he continued. “They include everything from , . . landlord/tenant — both sides — small claims, simplified dissolution, dissolution with children, dissolution with property and no children, modifications for alimony and child support, parenting plans, temporary support, temporary custody, paternity, disestablishment of paternity, name changes for adult children and families in juvenile proceedings, stepchild adoptions, personal and other types of domestic violence, financial disclosure forms, parenting forms, marital separation agreements, child support guidelines worksheets, and there’s more beyond that.”

No money was budgeted for the process, and OSCA staff worked on the forms in addition to their other full-time duties, Edwards said. He also said no area will go online until forms and questions are prepared for both sides of any dispute.

Edwards noted that earlier in the meeting the commission had been told that many lawyers who don’t practice family law were reluctant to take even simple divorce pro bono cases because those still require producing seven forms for filing. The DIY process will enable lawyers to take such cases and produce the necessary forms with minimal effort.

Broward County Judge Robert Lee, who also worked on the forms added, “When we did these, we had in mind we wanted them to be available to lawyers.”

The DIY filing process will accept electronic signatures from users, provide prompts and information, let users know if they need supporting documentation, and allow them to partially complete a form, save it, and then return later to complete the process, Edwards said.

OSCA staffer Ashley Patelis updated the commission on the Florida Courts Help App, released by OSCA about a year ago.

Changes include adding a veterans’ icon and a veterans’ resource page on the app in response to issues the commission heard about at its previous meeting and a link to and information about the portal DIY forms.

The Bar’s Young Lawyers Division reviewed the app and “provided suggestions for every page” and those have been incorporated, Patelis said. Among other successes of the first year, the app has been installed almost 6,000 times and has been used to download more than 2 million Supreme Court-approved family law forms.

OSCA spokesperson Paul Flemming said a self-help video is being prepared for the app, with the help of the YLD and the commission’s Council of Business Partners, and will focus on pro se litigants. A second video advising them on what to expect when they go to court, is also in the works.

The app, which is available free through Apple, Google, and Android app stores, already has links to other educational videos.