With more than 2,600 evictions waiting to be processed in courts across Florida, a harbinger of the waves of residents who could soon lose their homes, housing advocacy groups are demanding that the governor once again extend the statewide eviction and foreclosure moratorium and provide funding for rental assistance programs.
Veronica Lucha, an Orlando resident who spoke during a call with the Miami Workers Center, a progressive group that supports low-income people of color, said the moratorium should be extended until at least the end of the year.
She said her family is one of the thousands that received an eviction notice from their apartment complex in March after her husband tested positive for COVID-19 and could not work for several months.
“We need a real break to get up to date with all of our payments,” she said in Spanish through a translator. “We’re only beginning to recover.”
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The July 1 expiration date of the moratorium, which was first issued April 2 by Gov. Ron DeSantis, approaches even as unemployment in Florida remains at record highs and at least 130,000 people are still waiting to have their unemployment claims verified.[The latest] Florida’s unemployment mess: It’s not over | Commentary »
More than a third of adults in Florida have reported that they missed last month’s rent or mortgage payment, or said they won’t be able to pay next month’s, according to the U.S. Census Bureau’s most recent Household Pulse Survey, a snapshot of the toll the virus has had on communities that’s released every week. Nearly half also said they lost employment, and one in eight said their households at times didn’t have enough food to eat in the last week.
Orange County’s rental and mortgage assistance program, funded with $36.5 million the county received from the federal CARES Act, has been overwhelmed with applications, causing the system to close multiple times.
On Thursday, DeSantis announced $120 million in CARES funding will go to the Florida Housing Finance Corporation, which administers funding for affordable multifamily housing developments, to provide rental assistance. Tenants at those properties are protected from being evicted until Aug. 31 under a separate federal moratorium.
Another $120 million will also be distributed based on unemployment rates to counties for rental assistance, the governor’s news release said.
There’s a chance DeSantis could again extend the moratorium, but there’s been no indication that he will and he has often waited until the last minute to do so.[The latest] Taxpayers will help pay for Orlando volleyball tournament amid pandemic »
Even with the moratorium in place, landlords have been teeing up cases. Alana Greer, executive director of the Community Justice Project, a legal nonprofit based in Miami that has been tracking cases, said since April at least 2,672 residential and commercial evictions have been filed in Florida.
Thousands more are expected once the moratorium is lifted.
“What we’ve seen during other disasters that shut down courts, such as hurricanes, is that the numbers tend to not only catch up, but in many cases rise once the system starts back up,” Greer said. “We are anticipating it will be much worse this time.”
In Orange County, there have been 171 evictions filed; in Osceola, 63; and in Seminole, 43. The group did not have numbers for Lake County.
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Eviction records were not available from some counties, though, including Broward, that don’t make their systems accessible to the public.
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Jamos “Jay” Mobley, an attorney with the Legal Aid Society of the Orange County Bar Association, which provides free legal help to low-income residents, said there has also been a rise in what he calls “self-help” evictions in which landlords change the locks, turn off water or electricity, stop making repairs or even remove bedroom doors in order to force out tenants.
Those actions are illegal in Florida, but landlords often can get away with it.
Mobley and Greer anticipate that because of the way evictions laws in Florida are designed, most tenants will lose their cases. Florida law requires tenants facing eviction to pay the rent they owe into the court registry to get a hearing for their case, and if they can’t pay the court within just five days, “the landlord is entitled to an immediate default judgment for removal of the tenant.”
For residents who have been out of work and still not received unemployment, that would mean having to pay months of back rent.[The latest] Actors union accuses Disney World of rescinding work recall after it sought regular coronavirus testing »
The Legal Aid Society, along with other agencies, has proposed that DeSantis temporarily waive the requirement to pay into the court registry.
Orange County Clerk Tiffany Moore Russell, whose office normally handles about 1,000 evictions a month, agreed that “the expeditious way that landlord-tenant cases are processed is not favorable on behalf of tenants,” but changing that process would fall on the Legislature.
It would also be up to lawmakers to enact diversionary programs some other states have adopted that, for example, require eviction cases to first go through mediation or automatically seal eviction records after a certain period of time.
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Meanwhile, some landlords and property management companies have complained that the moratorium has cut off a crucial source of income for them.
“… [W]e want to help the person who needs it, but there are many, many people who refuse to pay their rent because there is nothing we can do. You have given them the ability to live for free in our property,” said Kenneth Gee, president of KRI Properties, which has units in Orlando, in a written statement to the Orange County Commission this week.
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Kim Hampton, a broker and co-owner of Orlando-based Hampton & Hampton Management & Leasing, wrote to commissioners that several property owners have been gracious and worked out payment plans and forgiven portions of monthly payments and fees, but in some cases landlords have also been financially affected by the pandemic.
“We can’t post eviction notices, three-day notices, late notices, nothing,” she said. “I feel for everyone involved, but this has to stop somewhere.”
Alba Hernandez, another resident who spoke during Thursday’s call with the Miami Workers Center, pleaded in Spanish for the governor to “examine his conscience” and lengthen the moratorium. She implored him to think of the people who work for minimum wage.
News Source: Orlando Sentinel.